In order to assess changes in the state of Ireland's forests over time, Ireland's NFI was designed using 1,827 permanent sample plots which facilitated a repeat measurement programme.
This robust reporting strategy was adopted to provide credible information to address strategic objectives and reporting commitments. The results of the inventory show that:
* The total forest area in Ireland now stands at 10.5pc of the total land area; an increase of 0.5pc since 2006. Co Cork has the highest share of national forest area at 83,619 ha or 11.6pc of the total forest estate. Counties with the highest proportion of national forest area are primarily distributed along the western and south-western seaboards. In terms of forest cover as a proportion of the total county land area, Co Wicklow has the highest forest cover at 17.7pc.
* The share of private forestry is increasing with 53pc in public ownership and 47pc in private ownership; this represents an increase in the private forestry estate of 4pc in the last six years.
* Broadleaved forests now represent 25.8pc of the total forest area. The main tree species is still Sitka spruce, comprising 52.5pc of all species. Less than 30pc of Ireland's forests are single species forests.
n56pc of the national forest estate is less than 20 years old, due to the successful uptake of State-supported afforestation in the intervening years.
* The total standing growing stock of Irish forests is estimated to be over 97m m2, an increase of over 25m m2 since 2006. Ireland experiences a very favourable climate for tree growth, as shown by our forests average annual volume increment of 11.5 m3/ha/year.
* The balance between increment and fellings is an important indicator of Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) in a country as it describes the sustainability of wood production over time, the current availability of wood and the potential for the future. Nearly half (47pc) of the gross annual increment was harvested between 2006 and 2012 -- which shows harvesting is well within sustainable levels.
n51pc of the forest area had one or more environmental designations, compared to 43pc in 2006.
* Afforestation of blanket peat is declining, reflecting a shift away from unenclosed land. One quarter of all forests are growing on highly productive gley soils while 33pc of private forests planted since 1985 occur on these soils, reflecting forestry's move on to more productive soils since the mid to late 1980s.
All NFI publications, including the main findings booklet, can be accessed on the department's website at www.agriculture.gov.ie/nfi.
Meanwhile, Minister Hayes also launched the 2014 ITGA Forestry and Timber Yearbook, which he described as one of the most important sources of information and reference for those working in the industry.
"The sector is now coming of age, is a significant Irish success story and exports most of its high value timber products. The 'Forestry & Timber Yearbook 2014' reflects the sector's importance, includes statistics and reference articles, and serves to increase people's awareness of the extent of our industry, its outputs and significance."
This is the 25th anniversary edition of the yearbook and it has grown into a substantial 200-page colour publication, the mainstay being the industry directory containing companies, businesses and organisations in the forestry and timber sectors.
The yearbook is now an essential reference for forestry practitioners, growers and the wider industry and also contains a list of industry events to take place in 2014 organised by ITGA and other groups and organisations.
"The Association circulates newsletters and organises various events, as part of its wide range of services to forest owners and the industry," said ITGA chairman Brendan Lacey at the launch, where he thanked Coillte and Forest Service, the main sponsors of the yearbook, and the other companies, organisations and individuals who support it.
The directory now appears on three websites, www.itga.ie, www.forestry.ie and www.forestryyearbook.ie, which have registered a combined total of more than 3m hits over the past year. You can now find anything from a forestry consultant to a local wood fuel supplier to buyers of thinning in the directory.
Yearbooks can be ordered at www.forestryyearbook.ie (priced at €11.80 plus postage of €2.10) or by contacting ITGA at 17 Castle street, Dalkey, Co Dublin on 01 2350520 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
William Merivale is national secretary of PEFC Ireland and a forestry consultant based in Cork. Email: email@example.com