The national forest research programme began in Ireland in 1957 with the formation of a forest research branch, in the Forestry Division of the Dept of Lands. In the early years research was mostly concerned with establishment problems on difficult sites, but gradually developed to include most aspects of forestry from seed to timber products. On the formation of Coillte in 1989, forest research was transferred to the new company but continued to receive funding support from the Forest Service.
In 1993 COFORD (Council for Forest Research and Development) was founded as an agency of the Dept of Marine and Natural Resources and took over the function of commissioning and funding forest research from the Forest Service. COFORD then proceeded to build a national research programme that would meet the needs of the forestry sector as a whole, including that of the emerging private sector. It developed a strategic direction for forest research and established competitive funding programmes which were open to all research providers and also companies/organisations that wished to participate. This gave forest research a new impetus, and with the involvement of the third level institutions greatly expanded the scope, expertise and capacity of forestry R&D. Communications between research and industry also improved through participation in joint projects and also through COFORD’s active publications and dissemination programmes.
Research and Development in the forestry sector has in recent years largely been driven by COFORD (Council for Forest Research and Development). It was originally founded in 1993 as an agency of what is now the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM). COFORD through its Council and staff took an active role in developing and funding strategic R&D programmes for forestry and encouraged and facilitated the dissemination of research results.
As a result of a government decision to rationalise the number of government agencies, COFORD was subsumed into DAFM in 2008. The COFORD research programme (now known as the Competitive Forest Research for Development programme) is now the responsibility of the Research Division of the Department and is one of its three main R&D funding programmes. With an annual budget of approx €3 million (2011) the COFORD programme funds a wide range of R&D projects relating to forestry. Supplementing this funding is benefit-in-kind provided by some of the research providers in the form of staff time, materials, equipment etc.
The COFORD Council as a representative body from the forestry sector in Ireland advises on the formulation of the national programme of COFORD, as well as addressing developmental issues in the forest sector including wood supply and demand forecasting at an all-Ireland level.
Enterprise Ireland is the government organisation responsible for the development and growth of Irish enterprises. Working in partnership with the enterprises it helps them to start, grow and innovate. It also helps researchers based in third level institutions and Public Research Institutes to engage in research by facilitating collaborative links between enterprise and the research community that lead to the practical application of research in business.
After COFORD, Enterprise Ireland is the next largest contributor to the R&D spend in the forestry sector. It provides approximately €1.5 million per year in grants to companies for R&D and innovation support, mainly for timber processing and development of wood products. Most of the projects funded are of a development nature rather than research.
The EU R&D programmes such as Horizon 2020 are another source of funding for forestry R&D. Being highly competitive, these funds are difficult to access and as a result contribute little to the overall forest research funding in Ireland. However, participation in projects funded under these programmes is very beneficial for Irish researchers as projects are required to be collaborative and involve partners from several member states. This brings them into contact with larger research teams and cutting edge technologies.
As Ireland does not have a forest research institute forestry R&D is mostly carried out by the universities and third level colleges and Teagasc in collaboration with the forest industry.
The involvement of the universities in forest research in Ireland is a relatively recent occurrence. Changes in national academic policy towards greater involvement in research, together with the funding opportunities provided by COFORD resulted in many institutions becoming actively involved in forest research. Internationally recognised research teams have been established in many disciplines and are contributing to the scientific knowledge of forests and forestry practices in Ireland. The main research teams are located in Universities of Dublin (UCD and TCD), Cork, Galway, Limerick, Maynooth and the Waterford Institute of Technology.
Teagasc forest research programme has expanded in recent years with the rise in private forestry. The main focus of this programme is towards broadleaf breeding and issues that concern the farm forest, including research on the silviculture of broadleaves, farm timber supply and the economic and social contribution that farm forests provide to local communities and the nation.
Coillte’s once extensive research programme has reduced significantly over the years and is now mostly confined to tree breeding. Its research resources have been redirected towards providing environmental and laboratory services to the company. Coillte, however, participates in many projects as an industrial partner and provides access to its forests and woodlands for experimental sites, forest monitoring surveys etc.
National Forest R&D spend
Figures for the annual R&D spend on forestry are available from the COFORD annual Reports. Coford programme is approx €3 million per annum.
Grants awarded to businesses by Enterprise Ireland for the development of timber related products are not published separately but are approx €1.5 million per annum.
The total spend on forestry and timber related R&D by the state agencies (Coford and EI) and business-led research amounts to €14 million per annum, or just over 0.7% of overall output.
Funding Programmes and Projects
Funding for individual projects has been normal practice and continues to be so for some subject areas. However, this approach has a number of disadvantages, particularly in relation to the continuity of research and expertise. When projects are completed research teams often disperse and the experience and expertise is lost to the research organisations and the forestry sector. An alternative approach, however, has been adopted by COFORD whereby thematic programmes are funded, initially for 4-5 years with the view to continuing the funding in the longer term. This long term approach is particularly important for forest research where it can take many years for the effects of experimental treatments to become apparent e.g. in genetics and silvicultural trials. Programmes comprise a series of individual projects around a common theme which are managed by a Programme Leader who has overall responsibly for the scientific standards and direction of the programme. An administrator is generally appointed who looks after tracking expenditure, organising meetings, seminars and field days, reporting to the funding agency and dissemination of information etc. Project leaders are appointed to the individual projects within the programme that are responsible for managing their research teams and delivering the outputs.
The programme model is working successfully and has many advantages not only for the research provider but also for the funding agency. Continuity of research and expertise, capacity building, longer term employment prospects for staff, greater opportunities for collaboration between research groups, a multi-disciplinary approach to problems, greater efficiency in administration, communications etc are just some of the advantages that the research programme approach confers.
Funding for forestry R&D is generally provided through calls for proposals by the funding agencies. These are competitive calls which require researchers to submit comprehensive proposals within a defined time period. Calls are normally targeted towards specified topics and proposals are evaluated by a panel of independent experts according to set criteria. Apart from the quality of the science, marks are also given for collaboration with other researchers, the experience and expertise of the research team, value for money and dissemination of the research results. Collaboration has had the effect of not only involving more people in a project but has also encouraged a more multi-disciplinary approach to solving problems which has greatly added to the quality of the research.
The national forest R&D programme covers a wide range of topics that span the entire forestry sector. A list of most of the current projects underway can be found on the COFORD website. New projects approved for funding from the 2013 Call for Proposals are listed here.
Communication of research results is now seen as an important part of a research project particularly for those projects that are publically funded. Dissemination tasks are key elements in the deliverables from a research project. Outputs can take many forms depending on the nature of the project but can include reports, scientific papers, posters, newsletters, websites, seminars, demonstrations, field days etc.
Communication of research results has been a priority for COFORD and it has developed an active dissemination programme through its publications, seminars and field days. This programme actively encourages direct communication between researchers and practitioners and is greatly helping in the transfer of new information and technologies.
Teagasc are also actively engaged in the dissemination of the results from their R&D programme to the farming community, through field days and publications. .