The recent RDS forum ‘Forest Futures – Delivering System Services from Irish Forests’ outlined a number of proposals on how a viable forestry programme could be achieved.

The standout recommendation under the session ‘Making it happen – institutional system solutions’ was the establishment of a forestry development agency (FDA).

The obvious issues that an FDA should address include achieving an afforestation programme in line with the recommendations in the 2023 Climate Action Plan, development of wood and non-wood goods and services, and the need for a properly funded forest research programme. It emerged from the forum that Ireland now has just four full-time dedicated forest researchers.

The late Dr Gerhardt Gallagher who supported an independent FDA structure recognised its importance for the forestry and forest products sector.

Apart from what it would achieve in areas such as afforestation, forest ecosystem management, delivering a sustainable wood supply and climate change mitigation, he believed that a key to its success would be its ability to house an effective forestry research body.

Good science must shape our future forests. Gerhardt Gallagher, 2024

“A multi-annual funded, co-ordinated research programme and a research centre are critical if the future of our forest estate is not to be determined by the uninformed opinion of vested interest groups,” he wrote in the Irish Farmers Journal (23 March).

He pointed out that the 2014 Forestry Act contains just one reference to forest research while the Strategic Plan makes “no mention of a unified research centre or funding mechanism as lobbied [by the Society of Irish Foresters] over 10 years”.

Research programme

He wouldn’t have been surprised that Ireland has only four dedicated forest researchers as he has advocated “maintaining scientific expertise through research career opportunities”. Without a strong research base and cohort of dedicated researchers, he believed that forestry research would continue to be short-term, and contract based. He made a number of recommendations for a sustainable forest research programme including:

  • Establishment of an independent umbrella body to fund forest research and promote forest products.
  • Effective transfer of findings and rapid response to disease and insect threats.
  • An improved understanding of the role of forests in carbon capture and sustainability.
  • Redefining land use and forests and their likely outcomes.
  • Development and testing of innovative wood construction against future long-term tree species yield.
  • Development of long-term research trials (see panel).
  • Dr Gallagher’s career began when Ireland had a research branch and a staff of 50, which lasted up until 1989. “Over the years, expertise was built up in the areas of species selection, plant provenance, genetics, crop establishment, management and protection,” he said. “The branch had wide international recognition among many research bodies in Europe and further afield.”

    Since then, Irish forestry – including research – has lost its research branch and has lost touch with Europe. Dr Gallagher believed this has led to the incorrect interpretation “by our administrators and their advisers, of regulations derived from EU environmental directives”.

    Net benefits

    “Behind this interpretation is a view held uniquely in this country that forestry is a problem rather than a solution in mitigating environmental risks,” he stated in recent correspondence. “Nothing could be further from reality when net benefits – economic, environmental and social – are considered,” he added.

    “Well-managed forests of any composition store carbon, provide green cost-effective goods, secure diversity throughout miles of green corridors, margins and open spaces, and currently provide health and relaxation to millions of visitors.”

    Long-term research needed to reflect long-term land use

    Gerhardt Gallagher’s

    career spanned eight decades.

    Gerhardt Gallagher advocated long-term research, especially for forestry which takes generations to mature. “A resource of long-term trials to evaluate emerging silvicultural systems and environmental impacts especially for new tree species and site combinations,” was one of his key recommendations.

    His view on long-term research goes back to his involvement in a European-wide research programme initiated by the International Union of Forest Research Organisations (IUFRO) in 1967. The objective was to assess the performance of Norway spruce in 14 European countries including Ireland. He not only played a key role in establishing the Irish experiment in Granard, Co Longford at the time but – conscious of his East German lineage – he also encouraged IUFRO to open the project to eastern bloc European countries.

    Valuable information

    The value of this project was outlined when members of the Society of Irish Foresters visited the Austrian research forest in 2016. The forest was established in 1957 and was 10 years old when it was earmarked for the IUFRO research trial.

    Since then, it has been monitored by Austrian research foresters and is providing valuable information on yield, thinning performance and disease resistance as the forest ecosystem evolves. The forest is privately owned, unlike the Irish experiment which was State owned.

    The main difference between the two projects today is that Austrian experiment is still alive while its Irish counterpart has been harvested. At a time when the Strategic Plan is proposing long-term native tree and continuous cover forestry programmes, the need for long-term research as advocated by Dr Gallagher was never more urgent.

    Gerhardt Gallagher – dedicated to forestry service

    Gerhardt Gallagher who died on May 2, aged 88, had four distinguished careers as a forester which embraced State and private forestry with research as a common theme throughout. Born in Waterford in 1936, he qualified as a forester in 1958 from UCD where he would later complete a PhD.

    In his first career, he worked mainly as a research forester for the Forest Service in areas such as forest yield modelling, inventory and tree improvement programmes.

    His second career began when he was appointed estates manager of Coillte in 1989, where he played a key role in the company’s continuous improvement programme, before embarking on his third career as full-time consultant to the Forest Service in 1993.

    Lifelong dedication

    His objectivity and knowledge were highly regarded in areas such as the environment where he influenced publications including the Government’s strategic plan Growing for the Future (1996) and the Code of Best Forest Practice (2000). He represented Irish forestry delegations at the EU and the UN.

    He began his fourth career in 2000 as an independent forestry consultant, which would last up until his death. He carried out projects for the private and public sectors and worked on strategic forestry issues for the Society of Irish Forester and COFORD in areas such as forestry carbon accounting and land availability for afforestation, while extolling the need for greater emphasis on long-term research. A past president of the Society, he co-authored Trees Forests and the Law in Ireland (2004) with Damian McHugh and a number of research position papers and forestry policy documents.

    He also maintained his interest in the arts as an accomplished painter, etcher and book illustrator. He published Connections – Verbindungen in 2011 which featured his etchings alongside those of his East German grandmother Margarethe Gerhardt (1878-1956).

    Predeceased by his wife Miriam, the playwright and novelist, he is survived by his grown-up children Mia, Donnacha and Etain, and brother Len, who followed him into forestry.