Over the past couple of weeks, the rumour mill has been busy, with figures being bandied around about the likely grant and premium rates for afforestation in the new Forestry Programme (2023-2027). However, the rumours are largely based on simple percentage increases to current rates, but these are assuming a similar forestry programme compared with 2015-2020.

This time around, the programme needs to focus on forestry achieving its “18% land cover target by 2046” as outlined in the Climate Action Plan, which states: “Given all forests planted in the coming decades will be critical for achieving carbon neutrality no later than 2050, it is essential that substantial afforestation takes place in this decade.”

The plan acknowledges the long-term nature of forestry, as forests planted today won’t deliver most sequestration until “the period after 2030.”

A well managed conifer forest planted today will be a major carbon dioxide sequester by 15 years, when its thinning will also be harvested to produce wood-based panels, stakes and wood energy. By mid century, it will be displacing concrete, steel and brick in construction.

While the arguments for native and naturalised broadleaves are well made on biodiversity grounds, these species won’t displace fossil-based materials in construction, a major emitter of greenhouse gas (GHG).

Neither will rewilding, rewetting or planting cutover bogs. The Climate Action Plan singles out two elements of the next forestry programme:

  • Afforestation as “the single largest land-based climate change mitigation measure available to Ireland”.
  • Sustainable timber production in displacing “carbon-heavy construction products”.
  • The answer lies in a balanced forestry programme with a realistic approach to what land use and species best serve Ireland’s objective in achieving net zero by 2050. The common denominator is carbon – sequestration in the forest and storage in sustainable timber construction.

    Carbon sequestration

    In framing the next forestry programme, the Department and stakeholders need to take note of COFORD’s recommendations to maximise carbon sequestration. It targets an annual 16,000ha afforestation programme and the introduction of a voluntary forest carbon code (FCC) in Ireland. Unlike Ireland, EU countries and the UK have well established Forest Carbon Code (FCCs). An FCC would broaden the debate on why farmers in particular should shift some land from agriculture to forestry.

    It would facilitate the sale of voluntary carbon offsets from forests on a longer term than the current premium period. This approach would increase rather than reduce the value of forested land after planting, as well as remove concerns about the replanting obligation.

    Above all, it would place farmers, who wish to plant, at the centre of the climate change debate.

    Carbon storage

    Carbon storage in construction is now regarded as a major benefit in commercial forestry. In countries such as Scotland, timber frame has an 80% share of house building compared with 20% in Ireland.

    In larger buildings – some up to 80m tall – many EU countries are using mass wood such as cross laminated timber (CLT). Building in wood is confined to three storeys in Ireland.

    Research carried out in University College Galway shows that Sitka spruce is suitable for CLT production. Yet close to 70% of timber suitable for CLT and timber frame is exported to the UK.

    EU countries are targeting wood in their building programmes. For example, in France, President Emmanuel Macron aims to ensure that all future public buildings will be constructed using at least 50% timber or other renewable materials.

    The need to reduce dependence on fossil-based materials is urgent, as the manufacture of steel, concrete, and brick, which accounts for about 16% of global fossil fuel consumption, increases to up to 30% when transport and assembly are added.

    EU member states currently addressing the role of wood in construction and energy are engaging in cross sectoral and cross-government department conversations between agriculture, forestry, housing, environment and energy. This conversation has yet to begin in Ireland.

    Woodland festival in Clonalis Estate, Castlerea

    Clonalis House.

    The second Woodland Festival will take place this year in Clonalis Estate, Castlerea, Co Roscommon, on August 28. The inaugural festival took place three years ago, but since then Covid-19 intervened.

    “As soon as the restrictions were lifted in 2021, we began planning this year’s event in the magnificent 280ha mixed woodland and farmland of Clonalis Estate,” says Marina Conway, CEO of Western Forestry Co-op.

    Richard and Carol-Anne O’Connor Nash of Clonalis Estate are looking forward to the Woodland Festival 2022.

    “The event, hosted by Western Forestry, will celebrate all that’s good about trees and woodlands, and a time for people to engage and learn from the woods and its biodiversity,” they say.

    “The theme is the same as the hugely successful festival in Killegar Wood, Co Leitrim, but the festival is expanding its range of events,” maintains Conway. This year, a wider range of topics and events will be covered, including:

  • Woodland demonstrations – including timber harvesting, crop improvement, high pruning, small scale timber extraction and sawmilling, tree planting and wood chipping.
  • Woodland crafts – wood turning, basket weaving, chainsaw carving and charcoal making.
  • Furniture and wood-based businesses – showcasing home-grown wood use including fencing, furniture and wood energy.
  • Woodland walks – tree identification, forest mycology and ecology and forest medicine.
  • Timber tasks – chainsaw sharpening and maintenance.
  • Woodland talks – history of Clonalis Estate, native woodland management, forest certification, engineered wood, continuous cover forestry, woodland taxation and forestry as a career.
  • “The festival will also have an Irish Wood Marquee dedicated to innovation in building with wood, furniture making, door manufacturing and wood fuel,” says Conway.

    “It really is a fun day for all the family to enjoy and includes archery, face painting and children’s crafts, storytelling in the woods, music and items on birds of prey and beekeeping.”

    In addition to Western Forestry Co-op, the event is supported by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and Masonite Ireland. It is a non-ticketed event, with a €10 charge for car parking on the site outside Castlerea. The festival site will be well signposted.

    For more information, check out www.woodlandfestival.ie, www.facebook.com/westernforestrycoop.ie/ or call 071-916 1458.