We need to make more of alternative forestry enterprises
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.