Forestry Management in Ireland

The current strategic goal of Ireland’s forestry management is stated by Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Marine (DAFM) (2014), Ireland’s forest policy – a renewed vision, as a goal “to develop an internationally competitive and sustainable forest sector that provides a full range of economic, environmental and social benefits to society and which accords with the Forest Europe definition of sustainable forest management.” Their recommended policy actions are under the following categories: expansion of forest resources, management of resources, environment and public goods, supply chains, wood processing, forest protection and health, education training research, quality standards and certification, policy implementation and review, funding, legislation, state forest enterprise, institutional arrangements, and sectoral developments.  We noticed a strong emphasis on afforestation and identifying with the other European countries in terms of forest management.  Most of their protocols are being facilitated by Coillte, DAFM, but also mentions the National Deer Management Unit. Specific actions they mention include using iFORIS (integrated forest information system) for review and analysis assistance with updated information, the development of a National Roundwood Mobilization Strategy, updated guidelines, establishing a forest council with a representative of the forest, related sectors and a hierarchy of a secretariat and subordinate committees, and the creation of specific task forces.  Other policy actions were vague and for the most part simply stated they will be approached by DAFM (DAFM, 2014, Forests, products and people. Ireland’s forest policy – a renewed vision, DAFM, Dublin).

DAFM resources provided a lot of historical and present information about Irish forestry and cultural attitudes towards trees.  The Irish forest sector is relatively young but has become crucial in rural development.  Roundwood production has become especially noted by the Irish forest sector.  Forestry is certainly growing in Ireland.  The 2004 estimate is that 16,175 people were employed in forest production or related sectors.  Wood as a resource also is highly valued in Ireland (DAFM, 2014, Ireland’s forest policy).  DAFM (2014) states that “Roundwood production from Irish forests is forecast to double from 3.2 million cubic meters in 2010 to 6.4 cubic meters by 2028,” and that “after wind energy, wood fuels are the largest contributor to renewable energy generation in Ireland,” (DAFM, 2014, Ireland’s forest policy).  Ireland Forestry originally was concerned with strategic development of home grown timber supply.  At this point Afforestation was not a primary concern.  From 1989-93 the Forestry Operational Programme supported afforestation with emphasis on planting Broadleaves.  Broadleaves since around 1987 has been especially important in afforestation.  In 1999 the Heritage council published the ‘Policy Paper on Forestry and National Heritage.’

Growing for the Future (1996) was one of the largest forestry projects in Ireland.  The main objective was “to develop forestry to a scale and in a manner which maximizes its contribution to national economic and social well being on a sustainable basis and which is compatible with the protection of the environment,” (DAFM, 2014, Ireland’s Forest Policy). Growing for the Future plan failed to reach annual afforestation targets, and by 2010 afforestation has averaged at 53% of the target (161,000 ha have been planted).  However, the Broadleaves afforestation goal was met in 2006.  Ireland afforestation target is not 15,000 ha planted annually between 2016 and 2046 (DAFM, 2014, Ireland’s Forest Policy).

Forests are an important part of Ireland’s economy and recreation.  Industries related to forestry have been growing in Ireland for recreation, afforestation and timber companies.  Between 2000 and 2012, the export of sawed softwood increased 195%.  Every year more than 18,000,000 people visit Irish forests (Forest Sector Development/COFORD division of DAFM, 2014, Irish Forests and the economy, COFORD,  Irish forest recreation is run by Coillte, National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), and Waterways Ireland.  Forest recreation is growing in Europe as a whole.  Issues of overcrowding from forest tourism has received little attention but could start to become a problem.  It is expected this type of recreation will continue to grow in the upcoming years.  Recently, research has been done on the benefits of forests for peoples health and Ireland has been looking into the benefits and protection of urban forests more (Forest Sector Development/COFORD Division of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, 2014, Irish Forests and Recreation, COFORD,

It’s important to note there is resistance to mainstream/governmental value of afforestation and tree protection.  Much of Ireland is rural, and locals in rural areas often are resistant to forestry intervention, wanting to use the land for farming (Flechard, Marie-Christine et al., “The changing relationships between forestry and the local community in rural northwestern Ireland,” 18-23 June 2006, Galway, Ireland,” Canadian journal of forest research 37, no. 10 (2007): 1999-2009.).


Results on Land Use

Unep Data

The first graph (fig. 3) shows the patterns of total forest area in Ireland.  There has been a steady increase in forest area in the past 25 years.  However, fig. 1, total forest extent shows a dramatic decline between 2005 and 2005.  Forest is defined by UNEP as “land spanning more than 0.5 hectares with trees higher than 5 meters and a canopy cover of more than 10 percent, or trees able to reach these thresholds in situ. It does not include land that is predominantly under agricultural or urban land use,” (UNEP (2016): The UNEP Environmental Data Explorer, as compiled from Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) – FAOStat, United Nations Environment Programme,  The forest harvest rate data shown in figure two is much more straight forward.  Harvest rates increased between 1990 and 2000 and decreased between 200 and 2010.

Results on Heritage Trees

Our unbiased results from heritage trees are that the heritage trees themselves hold a significant cultural, historical and biological/ecological significance to the people that live in Ireland. The advocacy and focus comes from smaller cities and towns, such as Crann Trees for Ireland (a non-profit, on-governmental organization), Tree Council of Ireland (a smaller subset group not in the government) and Forestry Focus (an initiative started by the Society of Irish Foresters–a group formed from citizens who live in Ireland) and also just smaller cities and towns in general who place special benches around the trees, carve artwork into the trees, place memorials around and plant special garden artwork around the trees themselves. However, our metadata (O’Neill, Barry. 2016. “Heritage Trees of Ireland.” National Biodiversity Data Centre. that was then projected onto a QGIS map suggests that a lot more heritage trees are clustered in and around larger cities like Dublin, and are around proposed natural heritage areas. The metadata contained information on current heritage tree locations and general tree locations and also future proposed heritage tree land area and trees in general. We compared the two to see what is currently “available” and what the Irish Forestry sectors within the government (DAFM-Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Marine, COFORD-Council for Forest Research and Development, and Coillte-Innovative and Sustainable Management of Natural Resources) hope to see in the future for Irish Forestry. Now, while the small organizations, cities and towns that are advocating for heritage trees is a small sector and doesn’t speak for everyone in the country of Ireland (which we wholly recognize), we can still see based on what we’ve read that for at least a portion of Irish population, the heritage trees hold a special cultural, historical and biological significance. It is through the trees symbology that we are understanding their cultural significance and broader notions. (Forestry Focus. “Heritage Trees.”  Society of Irish Foresters., ( Tree Council of Ireland. “Heritage Trees of Ireland.”, ( Liam. 2014. “Ireland Natural Royalty: The Heritage Trees of Ireland.” Irish Fireside Podcast & Blog. ), (Crann Trees for Ireland. “Heritage Tree Hunt Survey.”, (Fennell, Aubrey. 2013. “Heritage Trees of Ireland.” The Collins Press (1): 1-308.’).

It seems that based on the advocacy of those small groups, organizations and towns/cities, the Irish government has taken special note in trying to create a more protected heritage tree land area. Now it may stand true that the Irish Forestry sector already had somewhat of a focus on heritage trees because of their age, size and location but that those listed above and the government are influencing each other and working together to create a more secure future for heritage trees. It seems unrealistic that the QGIS map will be accomplished anytime soon, but rather over a long period of time, based on the current state of forests and trees in Ireland.

It’s interesting to examine both qualitative and quantitative results: the latter, in scientific terms, says that heritage trees are primarily in larger cities and industrialized areas and the qualitative suggesting that the advocacy and focus on them comes from smaller cities, towns and groups and organizations.

Spatial Analysis

nha-ireland-100516This map displays heritage trees (blue dots) as located in proximity to ancient/long-established woodlands (lime green), proposed (light orange) and existing (dark orange) Natural Heritage Areas (NHA). Zooming in on the Western cliffs of Ireland (see upper left corner of map), it appears that heritage trees are scattered near boundaries of the pNHAs. Brief examination of the map at smaller scales and in different areas (not displayed here, due to time constraints!) suggested a few trends:

Heritage Trees, Ancient Woodlands and Cities/Towns

Heritage trees are found within the boundaries of documented ancient woodlands; because of the characteristics of heritage trees (age, size, location), this relationship makes sense. Dublin is quite populated with Heritage Trees, as are many rural towns scattered around the country (at this map scale, visible clusters of blue dots in the midst of countryside (including ancient woodlands) often indicate sparsely populated areas with Heritage Trees.

Heritage Trees and Natural Heritage Areas

There appears to be a proximal relationship between the locations of Heritage Trees and the boundaries of proposed NHAs, predominantly in the Western and South-Western cliffs of Ireland (see: large shapes of light orange on map).

Follow-up research could be done to further explore these relationships: how do Heritage Trees relate to the proposal of larger/more wildlife protection reserves (NHAs, SPAs, SACs)? What values, historical narratives and theories underscore this conversation — such as a nature/culture distinction and a preservation/conservation agenda? What effect does the way in which trees/woodlands are valued (protected? logged?) have on Ireland’s inhabitants?


Crann Trees for Ireland. “Heritage Tree Hunt Survey.”

Fennell, Aubrey. 2013. “Heritage Trees of Ireland.” The Collins Press (1): 1-308.’

Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. 2014. Forests, products and people. Ireland’s forest policy – a renewed vision. Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine, Dublin.

Flechard, Marie-Christine et al. “The changing relationships between forestry and the local community in rural northwestern Ireland An earlier version of this paper was presented at the IUFRO 3.08 conference “Small-scale Forestry and Rural Development,” 18-23 June 2006, Galway, Ireland.” Canadian journal of forest research 37, no. 10 (2007): 1999-2009.

Forestry Focus. “Heritage Trees.”  Society of Irish Foresters.

Forest Sector Development/COFORD Division of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (2014). Irish Forests and the Economy. COFORD.

Forest Sector Development/COFORD Division of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (2014). Irish Forests and Recreation. COFORD.

Liam. 2014. “Ireland Natural Royalty: The Heritage Trees of Ireland.” Irish Fireside Podcast & Blog.

Tree Council of Ireland. “Heritage Trees of Ireland.”

UNEP (2016): The UNEP Environmental Data Explorer, as compiled from Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) – Global Forest Resources Assessment (FRA) 2010 . United Nations Environment Programme.

UNEP (2016): The UNEP Environmental Data Explorer, as compiled from Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) – FAOStat . United Nations Environment Programme.