Irish forest cover at its highest level in 350 years

Claire Fox

Claire Fox

Forest cover is estimated to be at its highest in 350 years, with the majority of it planted by farmers, according to the Department of Agriculture’s annual Forest Statistics Report for 2019.

The report which was launched by Minister of State Andrew Doyle said that the national forest estate is 11pc of the total land area and that forest cover is estimated to be at its highest level in over 350 years at 770,000 hectares.

 It stated that during 2018, 4,025ha of new forests were created and that farmers have accounted for 82pc of private lands afforested between 1980 and 2018.

 According to the report an estimated 12,000 people are employed in the forest and wood products sector and in 2018, €95 million was spent by the Department of Agriculture on forest activities including afforestation, maintenance grants, annual premium payments and grants for forest road infrastructure.

Since 1980, over 22,000 private land owners have received grant aid to establish forests. The average size of private grant-aided afforestation since 1980 is 8.7 ha.

Over half (50.8pc) of forests are in public ownership, with the remainder in private ownership.

 It also reported that nationally, conifer species are the dominant species present, representing 71.2pc of forest area, while broadleaved species accounted for 28.7pc.

The proportion of broadleaves in new forests created during 2018 was 27pc, up from 21pc in the previous year.

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The most recent annual figures estimate that 3.22 million m of roundwood was available for processing (excluding firewood), with 676,000m³ coming from privately owned forests.

The construction of 74km of private forest roads was funded during 2018. This reflects the projected increase in timber and wood to be harvested which is expected to double by 2030.

The most recent figures estimate that there are nearly 30 million visits to Irish forests each year, and values forest recreation at €179 million per annum.

Minister Doyle stated that there are a number of highlights in this year’s report including that the proportion of broadleaf afforestation in 2018 was 27pc, up from 21pc in the previous year.

“This is a direct result of the measures we introduced in the mid-term Review of the National Forestry programme last year,” he said.

“The information in this annual report has multiple applications for policy makers, NGOs, Community groups and industry alike.

"This Government’s commitment to forestry is evidenced by the investment of €95 million in 2018 on forest activities including afforestation grants, maintenance grants, annual premium payments and grants for forest roading infrastructure.

"This 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.”

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