Minister of State Pippa Hackett presented the 2021 RDS forestry and woodland awards last week to winners from counties Longford, Cavan and Wexford, with other awards going to all four provinces.

“The RDS Forestry Awards are a showcase for everything that is good about Irish forests and woodlands,” she said.

RDS president, Prof J Owen Lewis told the audience that “it was more important than ever to acknowledge farmers and foresters who are contributing to the sustainable development of Irish agriculture and forestry”.

Prof Lewis thanked the judging panel, Henry Philips, Tony Mannion and Jim Reidy, and acknowledged the support of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and Teagasc.

Production forestry award

Colm Foy, Ferefad, Co Longford, won the production forestry award for his 36ha forest at Ballymacleavy, near Ballynacarrigy in Co Westmeath.

Colm Foy, Ferefad, Co Longford, winner of the RDS production forestry award for his forest at Ballymacleavy, Co Westmeath. \ Fintan Clarke Coalesce Ltd.

A past winner, his forest comprises 30ha planted in 1995 and 6ha planted in 2012.

The area was originally in dairying and, later, beef before being planted. The soils are mostly mineral and fertile, and this is reflected in the high productivity of the woodland. Species include Sitka spruce, Norway spruce, oak, ash, beech and birch.

“The RDS judges were impressed by the efficient manner in which the thinning of Sitka spruce was carried out and the present condition of the crop post-thinning,” said Henry Phillips.

“He has managed to grow his forestry business through continuous investment while working with nature to ensure the long-term environmental sustainability of the area.”

Teagasc farm forestry award

Noel Kennedy, Teagasc forestry adviser, said: “The farm forestry award recognises working farmers who are integrating forestry and farming for environmental, social and economic benefits.”

He said the 2021 winner Owen Cooney, from Virginia, Co Cavan, fulfilled all of these objectives.

Comprising 35ha, his farm was primarily a dairy holding of up to 70 cows. Because it is fragmented into four blocks of land, it was difficult to farm, so Owen explored the forestry option over 30 years ago before the premium scheme was introduced.

Although his first planting was only 3ha, it demonstrated the many benefits that forestry brings to a farm and convinced him to plant further areas of marginal quality land.

He has adopted a mixed-species approach to forestry over the years and subsequent plantings comprised commercial conifers alongside alder, native and red oak, hybrid larch and beech.

When the small plots and awkward corners of his farm are added together close to 30% of Owen’s farm is now under forestry. Recently, he planted 2ha of agroforestry, which allows silage cutting and slurry application without any major hindrance.

Community woodland

Tintern Forest Property, Co Wexford, won the community woodland award.

A sustainably managed mixed woodland, it nestles in the south Wexford countryside just off the Hook peninsula and beside Bannow Bay. The property wraps around the historic Tintern Abbey which is managed by the OPW.

Over the last number of years, Coillte has become involved with the local community on a number of initiatives such as installing walking paths and the restoration of the historic walled garden to its former glory.

Runner-up awards were presented to Patrick J O’Reilly, Belturbet, Co Cavan (production forestry award), James Ham, Mullingar, Co Westmeath (Teagasc farm forestry award) and Liz McConnell (community woodlands) who accepted the prize on behalf of Kylemore Abbey Estate, Co Galway. Jonathan Sykes of Springfield Castle, Drumcollogher, Co Limerick, received a special commendation award in the production forestry category.

Regulatory review should examine southern Sweden, Scotland, Denmark and Austria

Last April, the IFA carried out a survey examining forestry licence procedures in a number of member states followed by a similar survey carried out by the Association of Farm & Forestry Contractors in Ireland (FCI).

The IFA study found that, unlike Ireland, felling licences are not required in Sweden, Germany and France.

The IFC assessed felling licences in Sweden, Finland, Germany, Portugal, Denmark and Lithuania, where there are no requirements for a thinning licence.

In Germany, only clearfellings require permission. All countries regard thinning and forest road construction as good forest management practice, which should not require a licence.

Now the Association of Irish Forestry Consultants (AIFC) has examined licence practice in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

It consulted with two full-time foresters in Austria and Germany and a part-time farmer and forest owner in Switzerland.

In Austria, the forester said: “It is very rare that I have to get permission to fell trees.” The Government has three categories regulating the felling of trees:

  • Forests that are exempted.
  • Forests that require one week’s notice.
  • Forests where permission to clearfell is required.
  • The Austrian forester said: “Almost all of our harvesting falls in the first two categories, so there is no red tape preventing harvesting. Forest thinning does not require permission.”

    Felling licences never arise in Austrian forests “where continuous cover forestry (CCF) is the norm”, according to the Austrian forester.

    “This allows thinning at any age and any area without having to seek permission to fell. In the past 20 years working as a forester, I never had to ask any government department for permission to fell trees,” said the German forester.

    In Germany, between 25% and 50% of all forests are managed according to the principles of CCF, with 70% natural regeneration and 30% manual planting.

    There are very little comparisons to be drawn with Switzerland, where some forest owners enjoy the luxury of having government foresters mark thinnings “to improve the commercial value of the forest and comply with ecological guidelines”.

    Regulatory review

    Minister Hackett announced on 26 November that “work has commenced on a regulatory review”, which will draw comparisons between licensing systems in a number of European countries.

    The countries selected should have some relevance to Ireland in terms of species, climate, timber trading and silviculture.

    Countries within 48° and 58° latitude would allow comparisons between Ireland and southern Sweden, Denmark, Scotland, northern Austria, France and Belgium.

    Southern Sweden would be worthwhile exploring as it is often forgotten that Sweden suffered severe deforestation up to the beginning of the last century – the country’s forest cover has doubled in the last century.

    Sweden relies on conifers – Norway spruce and Scots pine – for over 95% of its timber production.

    Also, Sweden is Ireland’s biggest competitor by far in the UK market. Both the IFA and FCI reports contend that Sweden enjoys a major competitive advantage over Ireland in licence approvals.

    It would be inconceivable to carry out a regulatory review without examining southern Sweden.

    Likewise, the review should include Scotland as it was the Mackinnon review of Scottish forestry led to Project Woodland. Scotland was subject to EU regulations during the revitalisation of its afforestation programme. It has a similar species mix to Ireland.

    Comparisons with Denmark would also be worthwhile as – like Ireland – it has only 11% forest cover. It is a leader in renewable energy and relies heavily on biomass energy (mainly wood but also straw and waste), which enjoys equal share with wind energy.

    Austria has merit because it has a vibrant forest industry. It has a wide species mix but is a leader in softwood – Norway spruce – construction especially timber frame and cross-laminated timber (CLT).

    France has a great mix of forests including the Atlantic Forest of Landes. This man-made, mainly maritime pine monoculture, would be worth reviewing.

    Also, France has some magnificent forests of Douglas fir, which was introduced from western North America and widely planted from 1872.

    Belgium is worth considering, but is complicated by differing approaches between Wallonia and Flanders.