President of the RDS Bernie Brennan told the attendance at this year’s Spring Agriculture Forestry Awards that climate change and food security are two of the most important issues of this century. “Ireland has a responsibility in both areas, which requires being smart and effective in the way we produce quality food, and to be responsible in tackling greenhouse gas emissions,” she said. She added that “forestry is central to climate-smart agriculture”.

This year, the judging panel comprising Brendan Fitzsimons, Henry Phillips and Jim Reidy presented the RDS forestry awards to forest owners in counties Clare, Wexford, Wicklow, Westmeath, Tipperary and Cavan. In addition to the RDS, the awards are supported by the Forest Service and Teagasc.

Farm forestry

There was strong emphasis this year on the integration of forestry in agriculture and in the landscape. While farmers normally plant an average of 7ha of land, this year’s winners of the Teagasc Farm Forestry awards had established sizable areas of woodlands. “The Teagasc awards recognise working farmers who are integrating forestry and farming for environmental, social and economic benefits,” said Professor Gerry Boyle, director of Teagasc.

Gerard Deegan, winner of the Teagasc Farm Forestry Award at this year's RDS Spring Agriculture Forestry Awards.

The outright winner was Gerard Deegan, who up until 2012, was an organic dairy farmer supplying Glenisk Dairies. He was milking 35 cows, while managing a calf to beef system. This was successful, but was also stressful due to its intensity and time-consuming nature.

Shifting land use to forestry was made on economic grounds, but was also a lifestyle decision according to Gerard. “I decided to change farming practices and plant three-quarters of my farm and continue farming the remaining 14ha, which is more manageable,” he said.

In 2012, he planted 43ha of mixed woodland under the then FEPS scheme. He still runs an organic suckler calf to beef enterprise and is also self-sufficient in poultry and pigs. He is involved with Social Farming Ireland and is exploring the installation of additional recreational facilities, including developing activities facilitating people with special needs.

Second place in the Teagasc Farm Forestry category went to Thomas Pollard, Ballingarry, Co Tipperary. He went into forestry because he was trying to reduce his workload on hard to manage land and focus more time on his better land. He planted 48ha of his 90ha holding and the annual premium allowed him to further improve his land through reseeding and drainage. With all his difficult land planted, he is now concentrating on managing a pure Aubrac herd on his good-quality land.

Production forestry

The Irish Forestry Unit Trust won the Production Forestry Award for Clonad Woodland, Co Offaly. Donal Whelan of Commercial Forestry Services, who is a consultant forester to the owners, said: “As well as being a significant economic, and commercially productive resource, the woodland also provides social benefits. We employ mainly local contractors and also facilitate forest research and knowledge transfer in best forest practice through field events.”

Oisin Meagher, Donal Whelan and Stacey Bradley received the Production Forestry Award on behalf of the Irish Forestry Unit Trust.

Comprising a central block of 142ha, the woodland has a wide diversity of tree species, ages and woodland types, while informal public access takes place mainly for walking and cycling. Clonad is one the first private forests in Ireland to achieve FSC certification.

Multipurpose forestry

The Coillte-owned Cratloe Wood, Co Clare, won the Multipurpose Forestry Award for sensitive management of this species-rich commercial and recreational forest. A major amenity for the people of Clare and Limerick, Coillte plans to continue its multipurpose forestry approach by maintaining the recreational areas, walking trails and the biodiverse area around Lough Gorteen.

Community woodland

The Vartry reservoir Community Woodland, now a major amenity for the people of Roundwood, received the Community Woodland Award. The RDS judges were impressed with the collaborative approach by Dublin City Council, Irish Water and volunteers at Roundwood and District in developing the trails and woodlands that are adjacent to the Vartry reservoir.

Monica Byrne, Roundwood & District Community Council, representing Vartry Reservoir Community Woodland, winners of RDS Community Woodland Award.

Projects that were highly commended by the judges included Matt Fogarty’s multipurpose woodland in Ballinderry, Co Tipperary, Patrick J O’Reilly, Belturbet, Co Cavan and Coillte’s Tintern Abbey woodland in Co Wexford.

Minister Doyle announces €15m forest premium payments

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine Andrew Doyle has announced that 4,248 forest owners have received their annual forest premium payments in their bank accounts this week. Payments amounting to €15.4m go to forest owners who applied using the paper-based application system. “Over 6,000 forest owners, who had applied for their premiums online, have already received their payments since January 2019,” the minister said.

Andrew Doyle, Minister of State announces premium payments and compensation for forest owners whose plantations suffered from drought last summer.

“My Department is paying out almost €70m in forest premiums to Irish landowners this year, with over 88% going directly to farmers, with an average payment of €3,500 per farmer.” Minister Doyle also announced the introduction of a reconstitution scheme for forest owners whose plantations were affected by the severe drought of 2018. “In addition to the measures which I previously announced for these landowners, I am now providing a reconstitution scheme, which offers a tiered payment system for private forest owners who replace dead trees.”

Field day in Rostrevor Forest, Co Down

The Society of Irish Foresters is organising a field day in Rostrevor Forest on Friday 17 May, beginning at 10.00am. Those wishing to attend should meet at the Cloughmore Centre, Kilbroney, which is located at 60 Shore Road, Rostrevor. Members and non-members are welcome. Rostrevor forest covers 1,670ha and has some of the finest Sitka spruce, Douglas fir and western hemlock in Ireland as well as Scots pine and larch. There are three interesting stops:

  • Recreation area with western hemlock, with an average pole size of almost 40m.
  • Douglas fir, with an average tree top height of 43m, which is retained with further thinning due.
  • Recreation development area with 40km of biking trails.
  • Leaders are John Joe Cassidy and Colin Reilly.