Ireland has achieved a lot over the last 100 years in reversing the trend of low forest cover. Forests and trees are slowly returning with current levels reaching just over 11% today. Although the national forest area is low by European standards it is still higher than it has ever been for over 350 years. Since the 1980s, over 300,000 hectares of new forests have successfully established creating over 23,000 new forest owners.
Increasing species diversity is important in improving the resilience of the forest estate. Changes made to grant aid forestry schemes have incentivised increased broadleaved afforestation. Since the beginning of the current forestry programme 2014-2020 over 1,650 hectares of new native forests have been created. These forests in addition to other broadleaves and commercial woodlands are making a positive contribution to biodiversity and ecosystem services.
Afforestation in Ireland 2015-2020 ha
Part of the recent trend in increasing native broadleaved woodland has been an initiative called the Woodland Environmental Fund (WEF). This is a unique scheme in that in addition to distributing exchequer and EU funding to farmers, the WEF creates a third source of finance – funding from the business community. The WEF involves an additional top up of €1,000 per hectare by the business as a once-off payment to encourage farmers and other private landowners to make the decision to plant trees. A number of large companies in Ireland are participating in the WEF and there is potential to attract more. While carbon neutrality is one driver for participation, there is also huge interest amongst the business community in getting involved in projects that restore biodiversity.
Other recent initiatives in Ireland such as the Continuous Cover Forestry Scheme are slowly building momentum with over 100 ha in the process of transformation. This scheme aims to support forest owners in the conversion of existing even aged stands to continuous cover. Creating a forest culture and learning from others is an essential part of building capacity and knowledge. The EFI INTEGRATE network plays already plays an important role in building capacity. Irish forestry has a bright future and the many new forests created since the 1900s will make a significant contribution to our economy and to climate change mitigation.
This contribution was prepared by Fergus Moore, Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Ireland.