Farm Ireland

Tuesday 23 April 2019

We need to make more of alternative forestry enterprises

There is a strong demand for recreational facilities within well-managed forest environments
There is a strong demand for recreational facilities within well-managed forest environments
Forest chalets can provide additional income for plantation owners
Joe Barry

Joe Barry

The announcement by British firm Center Parcs of its plans to develop a holiday village in Coillte woods near Ballymahon, County Longford is great news for the rural economy.

This initiative confirms the demand for more recreational facilities within a forest environment. It also tells us that one doesn't have to live near the sea to attract paying visitors.

There are now many opportunities open to farmers with forestry to cater for tourists seeking holidays within a woodland setting.

A number of farm foresters and other woodland owners have already erected timber chalets or installed camp sites with appropriate facilities among their trees and they are now reaping the benefits.

One farmer in Westmeath has already put in five chalets within his existing plantation and is delighted with the success of the venture. The Forest Service is also encouraging all woodland owners to install forest roads and use them for both tourist activities and the proper management of the woods.

The scale of the proposed development in Co Longford reaffirms the potential for this type of alternative woodland use. Once it's up and running, the Center Parc site will provide up to 1,000 permanent jobs and attract thousands of visitors annually. What a great boost for the entire midlands. Hopefully this will encourage further planting in other non-coastal areas where tourism has been struggling up to now.

The use of forestry for recreation should also encourage more mixed planting and better design of plantations. If used to also attract visitors, these plantations will no longer be subjected to clearfell, but will instead be ideally managed on a continuous-cover basis.

No one wants to take a weekend break camping in the middle of a clearfelled plantation asurrounded by stumps and brash, so more sensitive management systems are clearly essential.

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Continuous cover is the system that I have adopted for my own woods as I believe it provides huge long-term benefits. Once the trees have matured further with a healthy and vigorous understory in place, I hope to then explore their potential for additional income from tourism.

The sale of foliage for floristry, especially at Christmas time, when holly and ivy are in demand has been another means for my woods to pay their way.

Many people dislike ivy and, even though it provides essential food and shelter for wildlife, some go to great lengths to remove it.

This has provoked strong arguments and I have been heavily criticized for not cutting it off the many old, ivy clad trees on my farm.


Given the controversy surrounding ivy - one of our few native evergreen plants - I was delighted to read an article by that renowned plantsman, John Joe Costin, in the spring edition of Horticulture Connected, the trade journal for the horticultural industry.

John Joe's article explains how we are missing out badly on the demand for holly and ivy which cannot be grown in much of Eastern Europe.

The same applies in New England in America where the residents there still yearn for the traditional greenery of Britain, yet the climate is too cold in winter for it to survive.

There are now 1,500ac of holly orchards in Oregon from where it is shipped to New England in temperature controlled lorries to meet holiday demand.

John Joe also visited the main foliage market in London and the traders there told him that their holly supplies came from Irish hedgerows where whole branches are ripped off and then transported in lorry containers to the market.

This is their sole source of supply for London, yet there is apparently only one three-acre holly orchard in Ireland.

John Joe bemoans our failure to appreciate what is natural and growing all around us and wonders is this the result of past colonisation when everything native was demeaned.

Perhaps this history has also made us yearn for the exotic and fail to appreciate the natural beauties of our own countryside.

A mossy lawn is a delight to walk on yet we tend to kill it off and prefer a boring monoculture of grass that requires constant mowing.

There is a further popular trend towards growing those brightly coloured gaudy plants which one sees in municipal flower beds and around villages competing in the tidy towns competition.

But green is a colour also. We need to appreciate it more - not just on St Patrick's Day.


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