Private forest owners, mainly farmers, now own over half of Ireland’s forests with the remainder in public ownership by mainly Coillte, the fourth National Forest Inventory (NFI) published today (Monday, February 20) has shown.

For the first time 50.9% or 411,484ha of Ireland’s forest estate is in private ownership compared to 49.1% or 397,364ha in public ownership, which is an increase of over 7.9% since 2006.

Ireland’s forests have reached 11.6% of the total land area, which is up from 697,842ha in 2006 to 808,848ha in 2022 due to afforestation and natural development of semi-natural forests.

With the use of Irelands €1.3 billion Forestry Programme announced late last year, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) aims to grow the forest estate to 18% by 2050.

Ireland’s forests

Broadleaf forests account for almost one third of Ireland’s forest estate (30.6%), which is up by 5.9% between 2006 and 2022, while conifer species represent 69.4%.

Between 2006 and 2022 semi-natural forests were responsible for one third (33.1%) of the new forest areas captured, according to the DAFM.

Over 60% of stocked forest areas displayed signs of damage, however, the severity of the damage – caused by animals, competing vegetation, exposure and nutrient deficiency – was primarily low to moderate.

Minister of State with responsibility for forestry at the DAFM, Senator Pippa Hackett said Ireland’s forests are making a “growing contribution” to tackling climate change by storing 323.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2).

Key findings of the third National Forest Inventory completed in 2022 also include:

  • Co. Leitrim is the county with the highest percentage of forest cover (20.1%), while Co. Cork has the largest forest area (92,471ha);
  • The age-profile of forests is increasing with 39.6% of stocked forests being less than 20 years of age and 30.4% between the ages of 21 and 30 years;
  • Nearly one third of Ireland’s forests have four or more tree species present. Also, large quantities of deadwood (10.2 million m3) are present within the forest;
  • Since 2017, 39,640ha of forests were thinned for the first time. The area thinned between 2017 and 2022 rose by 8%, while the area clearfelled has decreased by 42%;
  • The total growing stock volume of Irish forests is over 142 million m³, which is an increase of over 25.5 million m³ since 2017.

“The balance between increment and fellings is an important indicator as it describes the sustainability of wood production over time, the current availability of wood and the potential for the future.

“Gross annual volume increment between 2017 and 2022 was 10 million m³ per year, while over the same period the mean annual standing volume felled was 4.1 million m3 per year,” the NFI states.

The fieldwork for the fourth NFI – which is undertaken every five years – began in February 2020 and was completed in March 2022.