According to the new national forest inventory concluded in 2017, Ireland's total forest area is 770,020ha, up from 731,650ha in the previous inventory completed in 2012. This represents 11% of the State's land area.
The first survey in 2006 found that 10% of the national territory was under forests. This increased to 10.5% in the second survey in 2012.
The latest increase is due in part to afforestation, but also to finer detection of semi-natural broadleaf forests not picked up on aerial images in previous surveys. This has also increased the proportion of broadleaved species in the inventory. However, conifers continue to represent the bulk of forests at 71.2% – most of it sitka spruce. This species alone now represents more than half of Ireland's forests.
Leitrim was the most densely forested county in Ireland, with 18.9% of its land mass under trees. The county has seen the fastest increase in afforestation, with over 3,500ha planted in the past five years. The pace of forest development has been controversial in the county.
Cork has the largest forest estate by size, with just over 90,000ha, representing 11.6% of Ireland's national forests.
Increasing timber stock and production
The total growing stock volume of Irish forests is estimated to be over 116 million m³ of timber, an increase of over 19 million m³ on 2012. The survey estimates that this growing stock grew by 8.4 million m³ for each of the past five years, while 4.9 million m³ were removed through felling annually.
The overall area thinned increased by 11% in the past five years, while the area clearfelled jumped by 17%.
A valuable source of revenue for forest owners and a source of additional employment in the rural economy
Minister of State for Agriculture Andrew Doyle said that the 1.28 million m³ increase in annual timber harvesting over the past five years was "a positive indicator of increased wood mobilisation and represents a valuable source of revenue for forest owners and a source of additional employment in the rural economy through harvesting, transport and downstream processing".
The survey found that Irish forests were generally healthy, with 44% of forest areas showing signs of damage, but most of it not severe.
The survey combined analysis of aerial images and foresters' visits to 1,923 sample plots to measure the actual stock of forests currently standing in Ireland.