New native woodlands scheme for public land officially launches

12 August 2020 

A new scheme for the planting of native woodland species on public land was officially launched today by the Department of Agriculture. 

The scheme aims to meet one of the outlined biodiversity commitments in the Programme for Government and will be aimed at public bodies at both a national and local level. 

Iarnród Éireann is the first such public body to express interest in availing of the scheme, and CEO Jim Meade announced they will be looking into the suitability of a site in Roscommon as a pilot location for the scheme. 

The programme adheres to the Government’s promise to improving biodiversity as well as to its climate commitments, according to Minister of State for Forestry at the Department of Agriculture Senator Pippa Hackett.

Permanent woodlands will, “capture carbon, protect water and will add to our landscapes for many years into the future,” Senator Hackett said. 

Pippa Hackett (l) and event moderator Ella McSweeney (r) Photo: Niall Sargent
Senator Pippa Hackett (centre) Photo: Niall Sargent

To date, native or semi-natural woodland species make up only 2 per cent of Ireland’s treecover. Ireland also currently has one of the lowest levels of forest cover in Europe at just 11 per cent, while simultaneously having one of the highest rates of plantation forestry across the bloc. 

In 2017, Sitka Spruce made up 51 per cent of all trees planted in Ireland, and the total area of grant-aided afforestation for Sitka and lodgepole pine increased from 48 per cent in 2004 to 74 per cent in 2018. 

Follow-up management concerns 

While welcoming the proposal to target public lands, Andrew St Ledger of Centre for Environmental Living and Training (CELT) expressed concerns around the follow up of these newly planted native woodland areas. 

“The concerns would be how these new woodlands are going to be managed and protected from browsing. In other words, who will ensure the necessary ongoing follow up focus?” Mr St Ledger said. 

The required maintenance could be carried out by locally trained people, such as CELT members, who could conduct long-term sustainable forest management care that would bring subsequent local use benefits, he added. 

Further forestry schemes are expected to be announced under the remit of the new government.

In the Programme for Government, the new coalition committed to publishing a successor forestry programme, to implement the MacKinnon Report, to review the forestry appeals process, and to engage with local authorities to encourage urban tree planting amongst other forestry policy measures. 

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Kayle Crosson