Urgent action required to save our native woodlands

Currently, only 2pc of Ireland’s land mass is covered with native trees. Stock Image
Currently, only 2pc of Ireland’s land mass is covered with native trees. Stock Image
Steven Meyen

Steven Meyen

Once upon a time, forests covered pretty much the whole island of Ireland. About 5,000 years ago, this forest cover started to decline mainly because of human activities combined with increased rainfall.

Ireland is now the least wooded country in Europe with a forest cover of about 11pc. Less than two per cent is made up of semi-natural or native woodlands. Urgent action is required to safeguard their future and reap the numerous benefits they provide.

Native woodlands are made up of trees and associated plants that have grown naturally in Ireland since the end of the last Ice Age.

These include trees such as oak, ash, birch, rowan, hazel, alder, holly and hawthorn.

Native woodlands are a unique and valuable part of Ireland's natural capital and cultural heritage. They deliver key ecosystem services in relation to biodiversity, climate change mitigation, flood control, habitat linkage, water and soil protection, and landscape enhancement.

Many of our native woodlands also provide for outdoor recreation and are an ideal place for young and old to learn about nature and the environment.

With careful 'close-to nature' management, native woodlands can provide valuable timber and non-timber products and services. A recent study carried out for Woodlands of Ireland found that our current native forests contribute up to €140 million each year to the economy through ecosystem services, recreation activities, the production of quality native timber products, eco-tourism and climate mitigation functions.

Native woodlands strategy

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Earlier this year, Woodlands of Ireland launched a national Native Woodland Strategy..

Restoring and expanding native woodlands will deliver benefits including woodland biodiversity enhancement, the protection of wildlife, water quality and flood control measures. Other significant benefits include climate change mitigation, improving landscape aesthetics, an increase in eco-tourism and the provision of woodland recreation facilities. Quality home-grown native timber can also replace tropical imports used in making high value furniture and craft-related products.

"The implementation of this strategy will not only help to secure the future of our native woodlands but will also create sustainable, indigenous jobs, mostly in the woodland management, eco-tourism, wood processing and craft sectors," said Dr Declan Little, Project Manager with Woodlands of Ireland.

He added: "It will also increase the value of our natural capital assets and assist in government policy and in meeting Ireland's obligations to national, European and International legislation".

The Woodlands of Ireland (WoI) project, comprising interested native woodland stakeholders, is an initiative established in 1998 to address the sustainable management and expansion of native woodland.

By working closely in partnership with other professional organisations, statutory agencies and individuals, the organisation has been to the forefront in the initiation and development of numerous native woodland initiatives and projects since its inception, including the People's Millennium Forests Project and the Forest Service (DAFM) Native Woodland Scheme.

Woodlands of Ireland is a Private Limited Company with Charitable Status operating with co-funding from the Forest Service of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine; the National Parks and Wildlife Service of the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.

For more information, visit www.woodlandsofireland.com

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