This year’s national forestry conference, organised by the Society of Irish Foresters, addresses non-wood aspects of forestry including carbon sequestration, recreation, biodiversity and water services.

Many of these issues have featured in Irish forestry planning for decades, but the core objective of State and private forestry up to the end of the last century was to maximise timber yield and income as well as achieving wood security.

This is not surprising as most farmers and other landowners with forests expect a return on their investment. In countries with well-established forest cultures non-wood income is generated from foraging (mushroom, berry, plant and tree foliage collection), tourism and hunting but timber is the only source of income for most forest owners.

A move towards non-wood forestry in Ireland began in the 1970s when the then Forest & Wildlife Service created an open forest policy which is continued by Coillte and in woodlands managed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service. This has been a major success.

Forest owners who have received forest certification – independent proof that forests are managed sustainably – will be familiar with the importance of public consultation

According to the Department’s own statistics, approximately 29m visits are made annually to Irish – mainly Coillte – forests.

Other non-wood forest-based initiatives have followed over the years. These are a mix of collaborations with community and environmental groups, in many instances supported by the Department’s NeighbourWood initiative, Native Woodland and Woodland Support Programme.

The past emphasis on commercial forestry has created a resource worth an annual €2.3bn, self-sufficiency in softwoods, an international-scale timber processing industry and sustainable job creation mainly in rural Ireland.

The recent two surveys on public attitudes to forestry show that people appreciate these aspects of forestry but there is also a strong desire for recreation, biodiversity and landscape aesthetics.

Most of these expectations can be met in forest management plans, as can the species mix of “broadleaf and conifer trees in new forests” that 75% of the respondents in the Behaviour and Attitudes survey favoured.

Public preferences expressed in recent surveys now have greater significance than heretofore because the public has a greater input in forest planning and management.

Forest owners who have received forest certification – independent proof that forests are managed sustainably – will be familiar with the importance of public consultation.

The role of the public is acknowledged in the Department’s “Shared National Vision for Trees, Woods and Forests in Ireland until 2050” by Minister of State Pippa Hackett.

Shared vision

“This shared vision is every bit as much for the wider public as it is for those working in the forestry sector,” she said.

That the public is placed on equal footing with those who work the forest presents a major challenges unlike any other land use.

Past Society of Irish Foresters members were strong advocates of the open forest policy. They now believe that it is time for open debate on all aspects of non-wood forestry, including:

  • Carbon sequestration – climate change mitigation.
  • Biodiversity including planting and maintenance of non-commercial native tree species.
  • Landscape planning – setback and open areas.
  • The role of forests in water quality and flood control.
  • Health and wellbeing – recreation forestry.
  • Conversion of land to ‘climate friendly’ use or non-use including rewilding and rewetting.
  • “There are major societal and environmental benefits in multipurpose forestry,” says Pat O’Sullivan, technical director of the Society of Irish Foresters.

    “But if private landowners – mainly farmers – need to afforest a further 7% of the land area of Ireland as envisaged in the Climate Action Plan, then their contribution needs to be acknowledged and assessed also on economic grounds,” he claims.

    “That is why we have chosen the conference theme ‘Non-wood forestry: Who Benefits? Who Pays?’ to debate the social, environmental and economic implications and challenges in achieving a balanced sustainable forest management programme.”

    Email or call 086-258 2240 for further information.

    Forestry conference lineup

    Speakers and topics at the 2022 National Forestry Conference on 11 October in Johnstown House Hotel, Enfield, Co Meath, include:

  • Senator Pippa Hackett, Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, will provide the keynote address on the role of non-wood forestry in the new forestry programme.
  • Colm Hayes, assistant secretary, Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, on balancing the multipurpose benefits of forestry.
  • Prof Cathal O’Donoghue, established chair of social and public policy, National University of Ireland Galway, will present a paper on carbon-based forestry: acknowledging forest owners for their contribution to net zero.
  • Olive Leavy, secretary, Irish Forest Owners, will speak on the role of forest owners in delivering non-wood benefits.
  • Dr Tom Nisbet, head of the physical environment research group, British Forestry Commission, will address forestry and water services including protecting water quality, shade provision and flood regulation.
  • Professor Jane Stout, vice-president for biodiversity and climate action, Trinity College Dublin, will present a paper on realising the value of forestry through natural capital accounting.
  • Eamonn Kenny, director of forest operations, Coillte, will discuss health and wellbeing and open forest policy.
  • Donal Whelan, technical director, Irish Timber Growers Association, will speak on the topic of ecosystem services, balancing benefits with payments and the role of forest certification.
  • Marina Conway, CEO, Western Forestry Co-op, and Matt Dempsey, chair, Irish Agricultural Trust, Irish Farmers Journal, will chair the two conference sessions.
  • Conference registration from 8.30am on Tuesday 11 October. Book in advance through the Society of Irish Foresters ( or call 086-2607 883/086-258 2240.
  • Wait and see on forestry from the National Ploughing Championships

    The mood was downbeat in the forestry village at the Ploughing as many of the exhibitors believed they would have had information on the new forestry programme for farmers.

    “The Ploughing would have been an ideal event to launch the programme and engage with the farming community about forestry,” said John Roche, Arbor. “And it’s not just planting but also roading which will feature in the new programme.”

    Dermot Fenton, Veon, John Roche, Arbor, Rory Cullinane, Arbor and Michael Pedini, SE Technological University at the Arbor stand.

    Maurice Ryan and Mike Moroney of Green Belt said without details on the next forestry programme, their presence at the Ploughing was largely a forestry promotional and educational exercise.

    Donal Brosnan, The Forestry Company.

    Donal Brosnan of The Forestry Company agreed that it was a missed opportunity as farmers will not plant now until the new year.

    “There is an interest in planting and we have had queries from farmers with small parcels of land who wish to plant, “ he said. “People are coming in and discussing biodiversity including planting native species,” he added. “I thought this would be a hard sell but it’s not.”