Tree-felling at Ireland’s ‘finest undesignated native woodland’ halted

Forest Service suspends two-year felling licence granted to Cork landowners

Environmentalist Tom Jordan and ecologist Laura McCarthy at the woodland in the Toon Valley between Macroom and Inchigeelagh, Co. Cork. Photograph: Daragh McSweeney/Provision

Environmentalist Tom Jordan and ecologist Laura McCarthy at the woodland in the Toon Valley between Macroom and Inchigeelagh, Co. Cork. Photograph: Daragh McSweeney/Provision

 

The Forest Service has halted the felling of trees in a wood in Co Cork, described by one expert as “the finest undesignated native woodland in the country”, following complaints by a number of environmentalists that the work is in breach of the owner’s felling licence.

The Department of Agriculture this week confirmed to The Irish Times that the Forest Service had suspended the two-year felling licence granted to landowners Lorraine and James Costello in April 2017 for the old-growth oak woodland on their holding at Silvergrove in the Toon Valley near Inchigeelagh in mid-Cork.

“The felling licence for the site is currently suspended. As the matter is under review the department is not in a position to comment further,” said the Department of Agriculture in a statement issued in response to a series of questions about the felling work posed by The Irish Times.

The Macroom District Environmental Group was one of a number of parties to raise the issue of felling with the Forest Service after the Costellos and their environmental adviser, Ecoplan, began felling trees on the Costellos’ holding which is part of a 150-hectare woodland complex in the remote rural valley.

According to Ted Cook of the Macroom District Environmental Group, the felling licence for the 13-hectare site is simply for thinning, but he said the work carried out by the contractors hired by the Costellos and Ecoplan constituted more expansive clear-felling, without any replanting taking place.

Tree density

“What has happened in late December and early January is that a large area of woodland was essentially clear-felled with some trees left... Many of the remaining trees are unlikely to remain standing as they are now vulnerable to wind-throw due to a drastic change in tree density and structure.

“The Costellos have a thinning licence, but what’s taken place at Silvergrove is not thinning – that’s why the Forest Service ordered machines off the site two weeks ago – the trees have been grubbed – cut down and the stumps ploughed up and pulled out by JCBs,” said Mr Cook.

“They are only licensed to thin ‘undesirable trees’ under the terms of the licence, but they have cut down hundreds of trees, and all that is left are some birch, a scatter of young ash and a couple of very shook oaks.”

Mr Cook said the clearance work was destroying what woodland expert and co-author of Management Guidelines for Ireland’s Native Woodlands, Dr John Cross, had described as “the finest undesignated native woodland in the entire country”.

Fellow environmentalist Tom Jordan alleged that the Costellos had also breached the terms of their licence by converting some of the cleared land to agriculture through replanting it with grass in the spaces between a few straggling trees and allowing animals to graze it last summer.

Mr Jordan pointed to correspondence from the Forest Service to another local in which it confirmed that it had advised the Costellos, following a site inspection in October 2017, that grazing animals were not allowed on the site at any time.

Licence application

However, forestry consultant Sean McGinnis of Ecoplan, who advised and assisted the Costellos with their licence application, has disputed that what has taken place at Silvergrove is clear-felling, and insisted it was simply thinning in keeping with the licence terms.

Mr McGinnis pointed out that the area was not designated as a Special Area of Conservation, a National Heritage Area, a proposed National Heritage Area or a Special Protection Area for birds, so the owners were free to carry out thinning work under licence, which they have done.

“The landowner didn’t do anything wrong – we applied for a licence three years ago and it was referred to the National Parks and Wildlife, who had no issue with what we were proposing,” said Mr McGinnis, who insisted the work was no more than thinning, and as such did not require the area to be replanted.

He also disputed claims that his client was prevented from grazing the land, saying that “wood pasture or silvo pasture” was a traditional land-management practice, and there was no prohibition on farmers allowing animals to graze in a forest where the owner has not obtained grant aid from the State.

He said felling work had previously been suspended in September 2018 when local Forest Service inspectors visited the site on foot of complaints, but the suspension was lifted at the end of October 2018 following an assessment by the manager of the Forest Service felling section, and work resumed.

He expressed confidence that the issue regarding the current suspension of felling would be resolved shortly.