'No more sitka Please!' - Farmer blocks road over Coillte's tree planting policy

 

(L-R), Brian, Siobhain and Shannon O’Hagan.
(L-R), Brian, Siobhain and Shannon O’Hagan.

Jessica Farry

Members of a Leitrim community have taken matters into their own hands, taking a stand against Coillte, who they feel have no consideration for their local area.

Just outside Manorhamilton, in Glenboy, there is a stand-off of sorts currently in place.

Local farmer Brian O'Hagan felt compelled to prevent Coillte from carrying out tree-felling, as he and many other locals feel that the work being carried is out destroying the area.

Brian blocked the road in recent weeks with a digger in order to prevent Coillte from being able to bring their machinery and vehicles into the plantation at Glenboy where they propose to cut down trees and plant new ones.

The first issue, Mr. O'Hagan says, is the method used by Coillte. "They're leaving the countryside in a mess," he told The Sligo Champion.

He says that because the site is on a slope, residue from the tree-felling process would run down to the river which flows underneath.

Mickey McDermot.
Mickey McDermot.

That river runs into the Bonet River which goes straight into Lough Gill. There was a similar project undertaken around three years ago, when Brian says the area was left in terrible condition afterwards, and a large volume of residue slid into the river.

"No matter what Coillte do there will be a run off into the river there with that slope. It's the method that they use and the damage that it is going to do that is one of the issues."

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There are concerns among locals that the large number of wildlife active at the plantation site will be impacted by the work,

"I don't feel as though a proper wildlife survey was done." An active badger den is clearly visible at the plantation site. There have been sightings of a hen harrier in the area too. A group of concerned members of the public visited the site on Sunday to see what could potentially be damaged as a result of any work.

"We also discovered a monster of a nest on Sunday and there was a birdwatching expert with us who said that the nest belongs to a sparrow hawk," Brian said.

"There is plenty of evidence of activity at the site. There has been plenty of sightings of red squirrels there, and they were nearly extinct a few years ago."

Fears of run off which eventually feeds into Lough Gill.
Fears of run off which eventually feeds into Lough Gill.

They have been left angered by what they claim is Coillte's defiance.

"We feel that Coillte are taking nothing into consideration. There has been no consultation with the local community whatsoever.

"They just rock up and get to work. They bring their big machinery and work around the clock so that they can come in and out as quickly as possible without anyone noticing them."

The roads are another concern: "If it goes ahead it could destroy the roads too. The site that Coillte are working on actually goes through the Leitrim Way, that will destroy it for any of the cyclists or walkers who come through here."

There is no work currently taking place, with contractors leaving to undertake another job. But, locals say they are on alert for the workers' imminent return.

The trees set to be planted are Sitka Spruce, which Brian and many others feel are not suitable. They say a native species would be better suited.

"The trees being planted are of no benefit to anyone. I'd have no problem if they came and felled 50% of the trees for timber and planted back a more useful tree. We've been ignored and things have gone totally out of control. It's time we stood up and made a stand."

Coillte response

Coillte has defended its tree-felling operation in Glenboy, Manorhamilton, following complaints from the local community.
In response to a query from The Sligo Champion, Coillte said: “There are over 21,000 private forest owners in Ireland who will look to fell and replant their forests as the trees reach commercial maturity, Coillte is just one of these owners. Forestry in Ireland can make a major contribution to our national efforts in combatting climate change and the Coillte forest estate welcomes over 18 million visitors to our forests every year.

“The tree felling planned for Glenboy is a fully licensed operation.  Licences to fell trees are issued by the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine who carry out a range of environmental and landscape analyses to ensure that the tree felling is appropriate to the local area and will not impact on the environment.

“Coillte also carry out a range of environmental assessments for tree felling operations, both at the planning stage and also during the felling operation itself.

“After a clear fell Coillte’s Establishment Team will quickly assess the site for replanting and, generally, within a year the site cultivation will be completed for replanting.

“It generally takes two to three years for the forest to “green up” and the rotation (forest cycle) to begin again. The opening up of new areas through clear felling and subsequent replanting adds to the biodiversity of the forest, creating new habitats for mammals, birds and insects and deadwood is often left on site to promote insect diversity.

“Young vigorous forests are also excellent carbon sinks soaking up carbon dioxide – a greenhouse gas. Coillte is committed to sustainable forest management and maintaining a sustainable yield of timber.”

The statement went on to say that Coillte ensure that rivers or waters are not impacted by tree-felling operations, despite claims from Glenboy locals that residue can find its way into the river.

“Coillte routinely fell trees and replant them every day right across Ireland.  Forest operations are planned carefully by Coillte and licenced by the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine to ensure there is no impact from the forest operation to receiving waters.

“Coillte’s forest operations are externally and independently certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Programme for Endorsing Forest Certification Schemes (PEFC) International Forest Management Standards as being fully sustainable and have maintained this certification since 2001.  Coillte monitor our forest operations routinely to ensure there is no impact to water quality.”

Coillte said that they do all in their power to protect wildlife and their habitats during operations, although locals in Glenboy community feel as though not enough care has been taken to protect the wildlife.

“Coillte respect and work with nature across all of our forests.  More than 20% of all our lands (over 90,000 hectares) are managed primarily to protect wildlife and sensitive habitats and promote biodiversity.

“Some examples of these areas in County Leitrim are Largy and Benbo forests, Lough Rynn and the Sliabh an Iarainn and Boleybrack upland mountain habitats.  In our productive forests we take care to identify and protect important features of biodiversity during our forest operations. Since 2001, Coillte have employed local freelance independent ecologists to identify important areas for nature and wildlife on our estate and work with us to develop plans to protect and care for these areas.”

While Brian O’Hagan and many others feel that the trees being planted are not suitable for the area, Coillte say they will help support local jobs.

“Coillte replant our forests with a range of species both native and introduced. The trees that will be replanted at Glenboy are being planted for commercial purposes to support local jobs while also sequestering large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. In other areas where nature conservation and biodiversity management is the primary objective

Coillte plant native broadleaf tree species.”

Online Editors


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