Native woodlands strategy aims for 7,000 acres of new trees

Woodlands support ecosystems, protect soil and water and can be a significant cash crop

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture Andrew Doyle  with Fiachra (10) and Lorcan (8) Little and Kate Keena (11) at the launch of Ireland’s native woodland strategy. Photograph Nick Bradshaw

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture Andrew Doyle with Fiachra (10) and Lorcan (8) Little and Kate Keena (11) at the launch of Ireland’s native woodland strategy. Photograph Nick Bradshaw

 

Ireland’s first native woodland strategy which encourages the planting and regeneration of native woodlands for educational, recreational and economic use, was launched in Glencree Co Wicklow on Thursday.

The value of the native woodlands which once covered much of Ireland is that they support a range of ecosystems and protect soil and water, according to the strategy’s authors. The woodlands also offer flood protection and carbon sequestration, the launch heard.

It was also told grants totalling almost €24 million were available between now and 2020 for the development of native woodlands.

According to A Strategy for Native Woodlands in Ireland 2016 - 2020 native woodlands are made up of trees and associated plants that have grown naturally in Ireland since the end of the last Ice Age. These include oak, ash, birch, rowan, hazel, alder, holly and hawthorn.

Specialised woodland animals, birds, insects and plants live in native forests, such as the red squirrel, pine marten, great spotted woodpecker, brimstone butterfly, narrow-leaved helliborine and wood millet.

Central to the strategy is a programme to establish almost 7,000 acres (2,700 hectares) of new native woodland and restore 4,800 acres (1,950 hectares) of existing woodland.

Landowners, farmers and local communities across the country are being encouraged to develop new native woodlands and restore existing indigenous woodlands.

The strategy notes a growing awareness of the educational, amenity and tourist value of woodlands such as those in places like the Glencree Valley , which were once heavily cloaked in native forests. Ireland is now one of the least wooded countries in Europe, with just two percent of the land area covered with native trees.

Woodlands of Ireland says on the commercial side the strategy should see an increase in eco-tourism and the provision of woodland recreation facilities. Quality home-grown native timber could also replace tropical imports used in making high value furniture and craft-related products, it aid.

Woodlands of Ireland is a not-for-profit stakeholder group funded by the Forest Service (Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine), National Parks and Wildlife Service (Department of Regional Development, Rural Affairs, Arts and the Gaeltacht) and the Heritage Council. It developed the strategy over the past two years.

Speaking at the launch of the strategy yesterday Minister for Forestry Andrew Doyle said there was a growing appreciation of the value of woodlands for amenity and tourism and he instances a number of trails which have been developed off the Wicklow Way near his home base of Rounwood. “The plan is for a walk from Kilmacanogue all the way to Ballygannon in Rathdrum”.