A record-breaking number of entries for the 26th Annual RDS Forest Service Irish Forestry Awards has revealed the very best woodlands and forests in Ireland for 2013. 

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine with special responsibility for Forestry, Tom Hayes presented the prestigious Awards, which took place in Castletown House, Co Kildare.

The awards are Ireland’s only national forestry awards and are divided into three main categories which highlight, celebrate and reward those who are who are at the forefront of the economic, environmental and community development of the forestry sector in Ireland.

According to  Tom Cannon, chairman of the RDS Committee of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, forestry has a lot of good stories to tell and the RDS-Forest Service Irish Forestry Awards have been developed to match the needs of forestry and woodland management in the 21st century. The awards raise the profile and understanding of active management of woodlands and help showcase best practice across a range of different woodland types.

The winner of this year’s Farm Forestry Award, which included a perpetual trophy, an RDS Silver Medal and €2,000, was John Keoghan from Threecastles, Co Kilkenny. Keoghan’s forest is located at Carrigeen, in the north west of Kilkenny. Planted in 1993 it covers an area of 50 hectares. The area is fertile with well-drained mineral soil and grew barley before being planted – a good example of essential income diversification.

The forest is highly productive and well stocked with Sitka spruce, Norway spruce, Douglas fir, Japanese larch, with the remainder of the area being set aside for biodiversity. The judging panel was particularly impressed by the overall quality of the woodland and the proactive manner in which it is being managed.

The Bio-Diverse Forestry/Woodlands Award, which also includes a perpetual trophy, an RDS Silver Medal and €2,000, went to Susan Kellett, Enniscoe House, Crossmolina, Co Mayo. Located in north Mayo between the shore of Lough Con and the Nephin Mountains, the woodlands at Enniscoe forms part of an historic 18th-century woodland.

With more than 36 hectares in total, the judging panel found Kellett’s woodland to be an extremely well planned and managed plantation that blends in well with the existing woodland and the local landscape.

The Community Woodlands Award is a new award that was introduced in 2013 and is designed to celebrate initiatives providing a local amenity and the difference they make to local people. The inaugural Community Woodland Awards went to Oakpark Woodlands, Co Carlow.

Formally the Bruen Estate, Oakpark Woodlands is situated on the edge of Carlow Town and provides a recreational amenity that includes woodland walks, visitor attractions and multi-ability playground facilities for the residents of the surrounding area.

The woodlands are being actively managed through thinning, felling and replanting. In addition, there is significant local co-operation with special needs and interest groups and the woodlands are open to visitor and school tours all-year round.

In addition to the main award categories, a Special Judges’ Award was presented to Matt Fogarty from Nenagh, Co Tipperary. Fogarty’s passionate interest in forestry has been an inspiration to all since he first got involved in tree planting in 1993.  His willingness to pass on his expertise and encourage other growers is of great benefit to the farm forestry community and his plantation, which has more than 150 different species of trees, is regularly used as an educational and recreational resource for the people of Tipperary.

Founded in 1731, the RDS continues to fulfil its commitment to furthering the broad economic and cultural development of Ireland. The RDS-Forest Service Irish Forestry Awards are part of the RDS Foundation Agriculture and Rural Affairs programme that aims to promote best practice and efficiency in farming to ensure farm household profitability and sustainability in Ireland.

Pictured John Keoghan, Co Kilkenny receiving his award