The Dublin Mountains are undergoing a facelift which will see autumnal colours from native trees increasingly replacing the green associated with dominant commercial conifer plantations in many areas.
A significant milestone was reached on Friday with the planting by Coillte Nature – a new, not-for-profit branch of the State-owned forestry company – of its first native woodland forest in Ticknock.
Minister of State with responsibility for forestry Pippa Hackett joined Coillte's chief executive Imelda Hurley in planting native Irish oak, Scots pine, birch, rowan and holly saplings. It is part of the Dublin Mountains Makeover project which is transforming 900 hectares of commercial plantations for people and nature.
Ms Hackett congratulated Coillte for its stewardship of a wonderful project. “They are responsible for so much of the woodland in this country, so it is heartwarming to see them dedicating this part of the Dublin Mountains to native woodlands and, in effect, to the wellbeing of the Irish people.”
We've been heartened by the overwhelmingly positive public response to the makeover
The Green Party Senator added: “We need Coillte to lead the way as together we design a new model for Irish trees, woodlands and forestry, and this project is clear evidence of their capacity and indeed willingness to do that.”
Commercial plantation forests in the area were cut down during the summer; the colder winter period means native species in an area the size of three football pitches can now be planted. This will create a more biodiverse habitat for nature and bring autumn colour to the hills.
Ms Hurley acknowledged the need for the State forestry organisation to respond to the climate and biodiversity emergency, which prompted the setting-up of Coillte Nature.
“We have responsibilities beyond our current scope of activities. That’s why we have determined to deliver projects-of-scale with a strategic environmental focus through a new and innovative non-commercial lens,” she said.
Coillte Nature director Dr Ciarán Fallon said: “This is an important milestone in Coillte Nature’s transformation of the Dublin Mountains forests. We’ve been heartened by the overwhelmingly positive public response to the makeover and we hope everyone will enjoy these biodiverse new habitats as they grow and develop.”
It will be a slow and careful process, conducted in a way that minimises disruption to today's recreational users
Coillte owns half of the forests in the Dublin Mountains, with the other half owned privately. The overwhelming majority (92 per cent) are comprised of non-native conifers, with some non-native broadleaves like beech, sycamore and lime (6 per cent).
The makeover uses a mixture of management approaches, including continuous cover forestry and native woodland planting, to create a mosaic of forest types and increase the species, age and structural diversity of the area.
The project will take time and will still involve machinery, felling and lorries on local roads, and diverting or temporarily closing some trails, according to Coillte Nature. “It will be a slow and careful process, conducted in a way that minimises disruption to today’s recreational users, while locking in benefits for nature and the landscape that will be enjoyed by generations to come,” it proclaims.
The Dublin Mountains is one of the most-visited outdoor attractions in the country, visited by more than 600,000 people every year. It is a recreational area for a growing urban population in the greater Dublin area seeking fresh air and green space.
The project was developed in collaboration with the Dublin Mountains Partnership, which aims to improve the recreational experience for users of the mountains while recognising the objectives and constraints of landowners. Its partners include Dublin's local authorities, the National Parks & Wildlife Service and Dublin Mountains Initiative.