Coillte CEO to leave in June
Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed describes Fergal Leamy's tenure at the helm of Coillte as 'one of huge success'.

Fergal Leamy will depart from his position as CEO of Coillte at the end of June this year, it has been announced.

It is understood he will be taking up a new role in the private sector.

In a statement, Leamy said that "the transformation and growth of Coillte has been driven by the motivation, commitment and dedication of our people and I want to thank the team for their hard work and support".

Coillte has now achieved its strategic objective of achieving a 5% cash yield on its €1.4bn asset base

Leamy noted Coillte's performance in 2018, when earnings rose from €85m to €115m.

"We also achieved a successful sale of our wind assets for €136m which represented a five times return on our investment. Coillte has now achieved its strategic objective of achieving a 5% cash yield on its €1.4bn asset base. The company is in a strong position and has an excellent team in place to lead it into the future," he said.

The Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed said that Leamy’s tenure has been one of huge success for Coillte as reflected in the turnaround in its commercial performance since his arrival as CEO four years ago.

Priority

"The priority now will be to appoint a successor who can lead Coillte through its next phase of growth and arrangements for the process to select this person will be announced in due course," Minister Creed said.

"Leamy has transformed Coillte during his tenure. He will be a huge loss. I wish him well in the next rung in his career path. I look forward to working with Gerry Britchfield who will take over from Mr Leamy in April.”

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Coillte sells wind farms and pays €8m dividend to the State

Forestry output to double to €5bn in next 10 years – Coillte

Afforestation continues to fall
New planting for 2018 falls to a 68-year low of 4,025ha, but major increases in felling licence applications and approvals can be seen.

The December 2018 Forestry Monthly Report (FMR) results show that afforestation continues to fall.

The programme, now at 4,025ha (Table 1), is less than half the 2010 returns.

There is little doubt now that forestry companies and foresters are switching their resources from planting to wood mobilisation, including road construction and harvesting – especially clearfelling – where licence approval exceeded 14,000ha for Coillte and private forests, which is the highest on record.

FMRs issued by the Forest Service, Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), provide data for private afforestation and harvest roading, while felling licence applications and approvals are provided for both Coillte and private forest owners.

Afforestation

Afforestation is the area of most concern as it has fallen to 4,026ha compared with the 7,205ha proposed for 2018 in the Forestry Programme 2014-2020. This is the lower planting programme since 1950.

Form I submissions, the first expression of interest in planting, have also decreased.

These have fallen steadily from a high of 19,967ha in 2013 to 8,623ha last year.

Technical approvals amounted to 6,964ha last year, but only translated to 4,025ha of actual planting.

Forestry companies continue to claim that the delay in receiving approval is a contributory factor in the eventual slow take up of the grant.

Most foresters and representatives of forest companies contacted maintain that the forestry programme has to be target-driven.

In other words, if the programme is 7,205ha for 2019 and 8,290ha for 2020, then the Forest Service inspectorate, along with forestry companies and nurseries, should aim to achieve these targets.

As recently as 2002, over 5,000ha were planted in counties Cork, Kerry and Limerick – 1,000ha more than all 26 counties achieved last year.

While statistics for these three counties are not available for 2018, it is unlikely that afforestation will exceed 1,000ha.

Targets are neither mentioned in the midterm review of the 2014-2020 forestry programme nor in the two reviews of Food Wise, the 10-year strategy for the agri food industry.

The strategy identifies the opportunities for forestry in “employment growth” and through the “increased contribution of forest-based biomass, carbon sequestration and wood products use [in] climate change mitigation”.

Food Wise includes the recommendation “to support long-term sustainable roundwood supply through an increase in the annual afforestation level to 15,000ha from 2021”.

How this level of planting can be achieved in two years is not mentioned in the review, which is astounding given the enormity of this challenge, especially against the backdrop of the current underperforming afforestation programme.

Wood mobilisation

Wood mobilisation is a major challenge in private forest management, not just in Ireland but throughout Europe.

Sustainable Innovative Mobilisation of Wood (SIMWOOD), an EU initiative, estimates that up 300million m3 of timber are lost to the European forest industry annually due to poor or non-management.

Harvesting roads

Forest road construction demonstrates active forest management as well as being a good indicator of short-term timber harvesting. Last year 74km of harvesting roads were constructed, compared with 91km in 2017.

The planning process is inhibiting progress in road construction and there are delays in receiving approval, which forestry companies and timber processors regard as unacceptable. Last year, applications for 287km of roads were received, but only one in four made it to construction – compared with one in two in 2017.

While acknowledging that 74km of roads is a significant programme, claims that timber mobility have been hampered due to lack of sufficient roading are justified, so there is room for improvement and delivery as there is a budget available to support a major forest roads programme.

Felling licences

Felling licence applications and approvals are reliable indicators of wood mobilisation in Ireland, especially when the licences apply to clearfelling.

Apart from 2014, when clearfelling licences peaked due to windblow caused by Storm Darwin, annual clearfell licence approvals average 2,200ha.

However, applications increased to a record 5,973ha for clearfells in 2018, with 4,420ha approved.

Approvals for Coillte clearfells reached 9,736ha last year – a record high for the company.

Annual licence applications and approvals for Coillte are difficult to evaluate as block applications often straddle a number of years.

However it is clear when licence trends are analysed, there is little delay by the Forest Service in issuing licences for Coillte thinnings and clearfells.

Clearfells are the lucrative periods in a forest cycle.

It is important that felling licences are issued quickly so that growers can respond to market conditions and plan reforestation.

There were still 1,500ha of applications awaiting approval at year end for the private sector, which is too high.

A number of foresters who have contacted the Irish Farmers Journal report delays of over six months, while one forester who applied for a licence in March 2018 is still awaiting approval.

Last year 93% of Coillte’s clearfell applications were approved by the Forest Service, compared with 73% from the private sector.

A similar approach in issuing felling licences to the private sector would be welcome, especially for forests approaching final harvest.

Creating a wood culture in Irish farm buildings
Creative wood design and use could be a feature in a broadened GLAS traditional farm buildings grant scheme.

Minister Michael Creed recently announced the opening of the GLAS traditional farm buildings scheme for 2019.

“This scheme funds the restoration and preservation of traditional farm buildings and structures of significant heritage value that are conserved for agricultural use,” he said.

Administered by the Heritage Council on behalf of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the scheme aims to support the restoration of traditional farm buildings and related structures, such as historic yard surfaces, walls, gate pillars and gates on farms, while at the same time allowing these buildings a renewed practical use.

These buildings and features illustrate Ireland’s strong masonry culture, which contrasts with some European countries with well established forest and wood cultures.

These include Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, Germany and Austria, that use wood – sawn and log – in a wide range of farm buildings.

While the GLAS mainly applies to buildings in agricultural use, there may be opportunities in the future to broaden it to include restoration of abandoned farmhouses and traditional farm buildings that could be converted for residential use.

Growing industry

There are examples of creative restoration of farmhouses and lodges incorporating timber and masonry in Ireland.

Donaghy and Dimond Architects restored a gate lodge in Tibradden, Co Dublin, using Himalayan cedar sourced from nearby trees that although dying, were rescued in time for use.

This project was a collaboration between owner, architect, local builders and woodworkers.

Such use of wood in a building prolongs its life as a carbon sink, while the owner also availed of the afforestation scheme to establish a woodland nearby to continue the theme of sustainability and carbon sequestration.

There are also possibilities of designing new, green buildings on the farm totally in wood, such as a barn by Mark Donnelly Wood Design built on the grounds of Blarney Castle in 2013.

This Co Cork barn was built using oak and larch sawn timber from the adjacent woodland. \ Donnelly Wood Design

Using wood sourced around the estate, the barn utilised larch planks for cladding and oak for the support structure, which is roofed with corrugated iron.

The roof has an underlay of timber planks to facilitate the roosting of bats at one end of the barn, while a purpose-built loft opposite has a nesting box for barn owls.

The inclusion of schemes such as these would begin the process of creating a wood culture in Ireland, especially on farms that have well established woodlands and forests and where wood is available for use either in standalone design projects or utilised with masonry.

Eligible applicants for the scheme are chosen on a competitive basis and around 50 to 70 projects will be supported each year

In the meantime there will be opportunities to use wood creatively in the restoration of farm buildings that qualify for the new GLAS.

It has a total funding budget of €6m, with grants between €4,000 and €25,000 for individual projects to cover up to 75% of the restoration work.

Eligible applicants for the scheme are chosen on a competitive basis and around 50 to 70 projects will be supported each year. The closing date is 19 February.

Further information is available on the Heritage Council website (www.heritagecouncil.ie/projects/traditional-farm-buildings-grant-scheme).

Study on forestry in Co Leitrim announced

Minister of State Andrew Doyle has commissioned an independent study on the forestry sector in Co Leitrim “in response to calls for a review of the effects of afforestation in the county”. The study will be led by Dr Áine Ní Dhubháin, senior lecturer in agriculture and forestry at the UCD School of Agriculture and Food Science.

The terms of reference for the study will be finalised shortly and the report will be concluded by late summer this year.

“I have discussed this matter with the IFA and have agreed with its request for a study to be undertaken,” Minister Doyle told members of IFA at their AGM.

“There are widely differing, and often contradictory, claims reported about the economic, social and environmental impacts of land use change to forestry.

“It’s important that these claims are evidence based and the goal of this study is to review some of the common claims and perceptions made about forestry in Co Leitrim.”

“We are hoping the terms of reference will be wide enough to take account of all aspects of forestry and afforestation in the county,” said a spokesperson from Save Leitrim, and that it will “look at the impacts on communities, business, health, environment, biodiversity, water quality and all the other impacts on our county because we are the most heavily afforested county in Ireland with conifers”.

Minister Doyle said it is important to emphasise that there are no regional or county targets for forestry.

“This study will also engage with local communities and assess the impacts of forestry, both positive and negative. I am sure all stakeholders will take this opportunity to engage and I would encourage full participation.”

Science, statistics and facts in Irish forestry
Achieving an objective view on Irish forestry a major challenge for the sector as the lines between perception and reality become increasingly blurred, writes Donal Magner.

If we are to do something about flooding, we are going to have to plant trees in the right place and we are going to have to plant the right sort of trees. All of that is really difficult because the right trees are not the trees which the public think of when there is talk of forest trees. They are not broadleaf trees. The right trees are actually conifers...

John Selwyn Gummer, Lord Deben, chair of the UK Committee on Climate Change

The above statement by Lord Deben was part of a reply to Green Party leader Eamon Ryan on land use during the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action debate last December. This committee, which had been examining the Third Report of the Citizens’ Assembly, How the State can make Ireland a Leader in Tackling Climate Change had invited Lord Deben and Chris Stark, CEO of the UK Committee on Climate Change (CCC), to take questions. The CCC is an independent statutory body that advises the UK government on climate change and monitors progress in reducing emissions across all sectors.

While Lord Deben has his critics in relation to fracking and beef consumption, there is little doubt that he values the independence and objectivity of the CCC. He told the committee “it wasn’t an NGO” but had to establish “a reputation for being accurate and scientifically based and not be a campaigning group”.

For example, the committee’s views on the role of conifers in flooding were shaped by reports such as the 2015 study The Role of Productive Woodlands in Water Management. These reports run contrary to “what the public thinks” but are accepted by the CCC because the information is “absolutely correct according to the statistics and the science”.

There is no forum in Ireland that has this objective approach and which is prepared to challenge some of the criticisms of production forestry but also ready to acknowledge them where they are justified.

The following is a cross-section of views expressed by activists, politicians and MEPs over the past year and are likely to be aired again this year, especially during the lead-up to the European Parliament elections. Many relate to production forests and increased afforestation – some justified, but most are inaccurate.

  • Irish forests are monocultures comprising one species. Monocultures were established up until the early 1990s in Ireland. As a result, 25.9% of Irish forests were identified as monocultures in the National Forest Inventory (NFI) 2017. However, three-quarters of forests have two or more main tree species and nearly half consist of three or more. No monoculture forests are established in Ireland because all afforestation projects must include at least 30% broadleaves to qualify for grant aid.
  • Irish forests are dominated by conifers, especially Sitka spruce. Conifers are the dominant species representing 71% of the stocked forest area while broadleaves account for 29% according to the NFI. Sitka covers 44.6% of the total Irish forest estate (Table 1) compared with 46.7% in 2007.
  • The landscape will be covered with Sitka spruce within a few decades. At current planting rates, 90,000ha of Sitka spruce are likely to be planted by 2050, bringing the total land area under Sitka spruce to 6.2%. During the same period, 1.9% extra of the land area of the five Connacht counties will be planted with Sitka spruce, bringing the total land area cover of Sitka spruce to 7%.
  • Irish production forests and Irish timber processors are over-reliant on Sitka spruce. Even though less than half the estate is under Sitka spruce, its growing stock represents 59% of total volume and may be over 70% of all harvested timber due to its high yields. It is accepted that Ireland needs to diversify towards ‘minor’ conifers such as Douglas fir, Norway spruce and the native Scots pine, while the 30% broadleaf planting requirement will result in increased hardwood production in the long-term.
  • Sitka spruce is an unprofitable low-value wood. Sitka spruce grown in Ireland is the most profitable species in Europe providing incomes as high as €30,000/ha for clearfells, especially in highly productive forests in Leitrim in addition to thinning revenues. It is a fit-for-purpose versatile timber used in construction, fencing, pallet and panel board manufacture while broadleaves or hardwoods are better suited to high added-value markets such as furniture, joinery and panel work.
  • Hardwoods rather than softwoods provide the best wood for construction. Virtually all wood used in buildings has been conifers or softwoods for over a century. This trend will continue as innovative architects are using softwood engineered or cross laminated timber (CLT) as the primary structural load-bearing element in multi-storey buildings over 50m in height. All the CLT green buildings in countries such as Canada, Austria, Germany, Norway and Finland use softwoods – Douglas fir in Canada and Norway spruce in Europe – while research work is being carried out in NUI Galway on the suitability of Sitka spruce for CLT construction.
  • Commercial forestry does little to enhance landscape values. Poorly planned and designed conifer forests have been rightly criticised but well planned diverse commercial forests can enhance landscape values. The 30% broadleaf requirement for grant aid and setback areas especially in riparian zones will result in a much better and more natural woodland design.
  • Broadleaves are better species to plant for flood control: The Confor report The Role of Productive Woodlands in Water Management maintains that conifers provide the greatest benefits for reducing water flows including larger evaporation or interception of rainwater which can reduce the volume of rainfall landing on the ground by 25-45% on an annual basis, compared to 10-25% for broadleaves.

  • Employment in forestry is small and makes little impact economically or socially. Total employment generated by activities in the forest and wood products sector is “12,000 full-time equivalents” according to COFORD and the annual value is estimated at €2.3bn.
  • As forestry has been singled out as a major land use in climate change mitigation, we plan to address issues such as the compatibility of forestry and agriculture as a land use, tree species selection, the kind of forests best suited to carbon sequestration and the role of commercial forests in biodiversity and climate change mitigation.