SUSTAINABLE FOREST MANAGEMENT
Since the introduction of Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) there have been significant advances in the protection and enhancement of biodiversity in Irish forests. With SFM, biodiversity has been given greater priority than heretofore and its management is now part of everyday practice along with timber production, recreation water protection, etc.
The following are some of the main developments regarding biodiversity that have taken place at a national level since the introduction of SFM:
- Publication of the Forest Biodiversity Guidelines.
- The requirement to have a biodiversity component in all afforestation sites
- Designation of 15% of the Coillte estate to be managed for biodiversity as a primary objective.
- The introduction of the Native Woodland Scheme and the Forest Environment Protection Scheme(FEPS ) to encourage consolidation and expansion of native woodland, and more environmentally friendly forestry on Rural Environmental Protection Scheme (REPS) farms.
- Protection of the Freshwater Pearl Mussel and the Hen Harrier through Appropriate Assessment procedures regarding forest operations.
- The development of forest certification standards (FSC and PEFC) and the achievement of FSC certification by Coillte forests and some private forests.
- The investment in major biodiversity research projects by Coford.
- Large scale habitat restoration programmes undertaken by Coillte – Raised bogs, blanket bogs, priority woodland and the Millennium Forests.
- Native Woodland Survey undertaken by the NPWS.
- Identification of all Old Woodland Sites in the Coillte estate and the development of a policy for their management.
In addition to those mentioned above there have been many more initiatives undertaken at local level, often in conjunction with local communities.
As forestry is a long term activity the effects of many of these initiatives will take time to become apparent, however, their impacts will result in more biologically diverse forests in the future which in turn will improve their sustainability and the delivery of ecosystem services.
FOREST BIODIVERSITY GUIDELINES
Until the introduction of Sustainable Forest Management in the early 2000s forest management in Ireland was focused almost exclusively on timber production. Biodiversity and nature conservation were regarded by the forestry sector as being the responsibility of the National Parks and Wildlife Service and of little concern for the day-to-day management of commercial forests.
Since the introduction of Sustainable Forest Management the maintenance and enhancement of forest biodiversity has become an important aspect of forest management. It is a key issue that cuts across nearly all aspects of forest management and today is a requirement of Best Forest Practice and forest certification schemes (FSC and PEFC).
To assist with the introduction and implementation of best practice the Forest Service developed the Forest Biodiversity Guidelines in consultation with a wide range of experts and interested parties. The Guidelines focus on how best to conserve and enhance biodiversity in Irish forests, through appropriate planning, conservation and management.
Key measures adopted in the Guidelines include the following:
- 15% of the forest area actively managed for biodiversity
- local biodiversity habitats and species taken account of during the planning of afforestation
- planning, design and mapping biodiversity areas carefully undertaken
- disturbance avoided in carrying out forest operations
- existing habitats protected and enhanced
- open space (5-10%) provided within the forest
- aquatic zones protected by buffer zones to enhance water quality
- veteran trees and deadwood (standing and fallen) retained to provide wildlife habitat
- native broadleaved species planted where appropriate
- age and structural diversity encouraged to enhance habitat value
- pests and troublesome species controlled.
The Guidelines apply to all grant-aided projects and to all activities associated with a Felling Licence. Implementation is overseen by the Forest Service Inspectorate.
In addition to the Forest Biodiversity Guidelines the protection and enhancement of biodiversity in forests is being facilitated through a number of the Forest Service grant schemes.
- Afforestation Scheme – there is requirement to have approximately 15% of an afforestation development allocated to Areas of Biodiversity Enhancement (ABEs). These areas, which comprise open spaces and retained habitats, are aimed at encouraging the development of diverse habitats, native flora and fauna, and biodiversity.
- Forest Environmental Protection Scheme (FEPS) – This Scheme encourages farmers to combine the establishment of high nature-value woodland with their participation in the Rural Environment Protection Scheme (REPS).
- Native Woodland Scheme – is aimed at protecting, enhancing and expanding Ireland’s native woodland resource and associated biodiversity, through appropriate planting and management. The scheme comprises two separate elements: conservation (focused on protecting and enhancing existing native woodland) and Establishment (focused on creating new native woodland).
Further information on the schemes is available at: Grant and Premium Schemes
BIODIVERSITY AND FOREST CERTIFICATION
Forest certification (a voluntary process undertaken by forest managers/owners that wish to demonstrate that their forests are sustainably managed) is also playing an important role in the protection and enhancement of biodiversity in forests. This process requires that forest management reach certain standards before the forests can be certified as being responsibly managed.
The FSC Forestry Standard for Ireland, in addition to encompassing the requirements of the Forest Biodiversity Guidelines has further requirements that go well beyond the Guidelines. Principles 6,7,8,9 and 10 of the Standard have over 80 indicators that relate in some way to the protection or enhancement of biodiversity.
The PEFC Forestry Standard for Ireland, while less prescriptive than the FSC Standard, tends to follow the statutory requirements of the Forest Biodiversity Guidelines, the Local Biodiversity Plans prepared by the Local Authorities and the requirements of the National Parks and Wildlife Service.
The recent introduction of PEFC certification, which will apply to the private sector forests, has yet to have an impact in Ireland. FSC certification, however, has had a major influence on the way biodiversity, is managed in the state (Coillte) forests which have been certified since 2001. Some of these influences have been:
- Designation of over 65,000 ha for biodiversity within Coillte forests based on ecological surveys
- Inclusion of biodiversity in the forest management plans at regional and local level
- Development of policies and plans for the management of HighConservationValueForests and protected species.
- Initiation of a major restoration programme for priority habitats within Coillte’s forest estate.
- Introduction of comprehensive environmental assessment procedures and the inclusion of these in the company’s processes and procedures.
- Protection of small biodiversity features and deadwood habitat
- Reduction in chemical usage
- The increased planting of broadleaves
Certification has acted as a catalyst for the protection and enhancement of biodiversity in Irish forests and continuous improvement, which is key feature of certification, will ensure that this momentum continues into the future.