The forest and the trees

 

Sir, – I would like to respond to some of the views expressed in the article on forestry (“This is load-of-crap forestry, miles upon miles of it. Everything is dead in there’”, Weekend, March 16th).

The National Forestry Programme 2014-2020 is the over-arching policy for forestry in Ireland and it is a diverse and comprehensive policy which aims to enhance the economic, social and recreational benefits of forestry in Ireland.

Your article’s characterisation of forestry in Ireland as “monoculture” is not borne out by the facts.

There are 12 categories of planting funded under the Forestry Programme, to cater for all types of forestry from broadleaves, native species to more commercial species. It also funds restoration of native woodlands and the recreational facilities in forests which thousands of Irish people enjoy every day.

This means that the national forest estate is a diverse one and broadleaved species account for around 30 per cent of the total forest area.

This has been enhanced by policy decisions taken under the Forestry Programme including the increasing the mandatory broadleaf requirement to 15 per cent for all afforestation projects, including Sitka spruce plantations, while the grant and premium rates for broadleaves were also increased. This has had an immediate effect with a 25 per cent increase in broadleaf planting last year compared to 2017. Indeed, this planting season the National Forestry Programme will fund the planting of five million new broadleaf trees in Ireland.

In relation to Sitka spruce, it is worth noting that it is highly efficient in sequestering and storing carbon and provides wood products that continue to store carbon. It is also the bedrock on which 12,000 jobs in rural Ireland depend, not least in Co Leitrim, which has the highest proportion of people employed in the sector of any county in Ireland.

My department applies several protocols, procedures and scrutiny to all afforestation applications regarding their environmental suitability. There are protocols to address specific sensitivities, including curlew, hen harrier, freshwater pearl mussel, small white orchid, and acid-sensitive surface waters.

Furthermore mandatory requirements apply to planting and these stipulate setbacks for water, habitats, archaeology, dwellings and a host of protective measures to be applied during operations.

Forests delivered under the National Forestry Programme continue to deliver multifunctional benefits to society. Forests provide the ideal “venue” for outdoor recreation, with a beneficial impact regarding physical health and mental well-being.

Forests provide multiple opportunities for value added products and services, supporting local employment and economic development. These include sawnwood and panelboard manufacture through to high value timber products from rustic craftwork to bespoke furniture, and non-timber products such as mushrooms and foliage.

Forests also provide the venue for visitor centres, holiday accommodation and adventure sports, and contribute to the attractive landscape visitors to Ireland seek out.

Forestry biomass used for heat and electricity generation can replace fossil fuels. Strategic planting of forestry and native woodlands in particular can improve water quality and help reduce the risk and severity of flooding.

New native woodlands provide a semi-natural environment that provides a home for a wide range of plants and animals, including woodland specialists, woodland generalists and “ruderals” (or opportunists).

The forestry sector delivers significant economic benefits to rural Ireland as well as a wide range of eco-system services including biodiversity, carbon sequestration, recreational and well-being benefits.

The department is fully committed to promoting a balanced afforestation programme which responds to societal needs for employment, rural regeneration and recreation and which contributes to Ireland’s climate change and biodiversity objectives. – Yours, etc,

ANDREW DOYLE TD,

Minister of State

at the Department

of Agriculture, Food

and the Marine.