Forestry cover at highest level ‘in over 350 years’

The area of Ireland under forest now stands at around 770,000ha – the highest level of forestry cover in the country in over 350 years.

That’s according to the new Forest Statistics Ireland 2019 report, which was released today by Minister of State for forestry Andrew Doyle.

The report indicates that the national forest estate is now around 11% of the total land area of Ireland, with 4,025ha of new forest planted in 2018.

Farms have accounted for 82% of the private lands afforested between 1980 and 2018, the report says.

At present, the forestry and wood product sector employs roughly 12,000 people.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine spent €95 million on forestry-related activities in 2018, including afforestation, maintenance grants, annual premium payments and grants for forest roads.

The statistics show that the ownership of forests is divided almost exactly in half between public and private; a very small majority – 50.8% – are under public ownership.

The report argues that the national forest estate is an “important carbon reservoir” equating to an estimated 312 million tonnes of carbon.

Conifer tree species are the dominant species in Irish forests, the report says, accounting for 71.2% of forest area, with broadleaf trees making up the remainder.

However, the proportion of new broadleaf trees planted in 2018 increased to 27% of all new trees, up from 21% in 2017.

In 2018, the Government funded the construction of 74km of private forest roads which, according to the report, reflects a coming increase in the amount of wood that will be available for harvesting by 2030.

It is estimated that 3.22 million cubic metres of roundwood was available for harvesting in 2018 (excluding for fire wood). This included over 650,000m³ coming from privately owned forests.

It is also estimated that the value of forest recreation is €179 million per year.

Commenting on the report, Minister of State Doyle said: “It is the definitive compendium of up-to-date information on forestry in Ireland, and is the go-to reference document for anybody interested in the subject.”

He concluded by claiming that the Government’s policy on forestry “will yield dividends in a number of ways, including in the rural economy, but most importantly in Ireland’s efforts to tackle climate change, given the role which our forests play in carbon sequestration.”