Ten forests were shortlisted for this year’s RDS forestry awards, covering all four provinces. Presented by Minister of State Pippa Hackett and supported by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and Teagasc, the awards featured a new native woodland category, in addition to community, production and farm forestry awards.

“The awards celebrate the best of Irish forestry, in all its various forms,” said Minister Hackett.

Minister of State Pippa Hackett presented Coillte with the Native Woodland Conservation Award for the management of Coill an Fhaltaigh near Kilkenny. From left with Minister Hackett are Eoin Wemmys and Mary Clifford, Coillte, Joe Gowran, CEO Woodlands of Ireland and John Dardis, President RDS.

“They showcase the very best of management, from which we can all learn – be it as forest owners, as farmers who might be thinking of planting some of their land, as policy makers or simply as ordinary citizens with a love for nature and the outdoors.”

The inaugural native woodland award was won by Coillte’s Coill an Fhaltaigh. Located on the outskirts of Kilkenny, this is the largest of the Peoples Millennium Forests, managed by Coillte.

“A recent survey of plant life found an impressive 125 species were present, including oak and spindle – regenerating freely – alder, hazel birch and ash,” said Mick Keane, chair of the judging panel.

Also known as ‘Woodlands’ or ‘Walls Wood’, it is according to Keane: “An oasis of calm, surrounded by intensive agriculture, and is home to pine marten, woodcock, jay and buzzards.”

Keane and his fellow judges Henry Phillips, PJ Fitzpatrick and Joe Gowran were impressed by the continuous management approach of Eoin Wemyss and the Coillte team not only in maximising the diversity of native species but also ensuring the woodland is fully accessible.

Future plans include car park upgrade, a wheelchair accessible trail, new toilets and improved signage, which Coillte is carrying out in partnership with Kilkenny County Council.

Production forestry

Ross Buchanan won the production award for his forest near Carndonagh, Co Donegal. A previous winner of the Teagasc farm forestry award, he illustrates that forests can provide a range of benefits from ecological to economic.

The forest contains birch, Scots pine and a quality oak woodland – the most northerly on the island – but Sitka spruce is an important component of the forest as it delivers medium-term economic returns.

Keane and the judging panel were not only impressed with the commercial management of the forest but also its multipurpose function in areas such as tourism which Ross and Annemarie Buchanan plan to develop in the 48ha forest.

Ross and Annemarie Buchanan, Carndonagh winners of RDS Production Forestry Award.

The judges praised Buchanan’s innovative approach to problem solving such as using spruce brash for stream stabilisation and wood chips for the suppression of Japanese knotweed.

Farm forestry

Derek and Yvonne McCabe, Mountnugent, Co Cavan were the overall winners of the Teagasc Farm-Forestry Award. This award recognises working farmers who are integrating forestry and farming for environmental, social and economic benefits.

“The McCabes have been recognised for having the vision and foresight to future proof their farm and combine commercial forestry with their organic farming operation, thus ensuring the viability of their farm for the current and next generation,” said Mick Keane.

They planted their first 8ha forestry in 1990 and progressively built it up to 70ha of commercial woodland which not only supplies a viable revenue stream but virtually all the fuel required for their home. They are suckler farmers with mixed pedigree Angus and continental breeds. They also breed Irish draught horses and have a wood fuel business. 

Derek McCabe of Mountnugent, Co Cavan with his children Alanna and Calum with the RDS Teagasc Farm-Forestry Award.

Derek McCabe is a strong advocate of farm forestry and shares his knowledge freely with other forest owners in his role as chair of the Irish Forest Owners (IFO).

Community woodland

Mallow Castle Demesne and Town Park was the overall winner of the Community Woodlands Award. When Cork County Council decided to buy Mallow Castle and estate in 2011, they not only carried out renovations on the castle and added pathways, but also “implemented a hugely ambitious plan which involved a lot of work on both the creation of new woodland, and the management of existing woodland,” according to Mick Keane.

Finbar Jones and Damien Linehan. Mallow Castle Demesne and Town Park accepted the Community Woodland Award.

He praised the project for its wide “consultation during the planning stage which continues with local groups such as adjoining landowners, schools, men’s shed, fishing and other sports clubs”. Thousands of young and semi-mature trees have been planted over the last 10 years, which are a welcome addition to the many existing semi-mature and mature trees.


The following four woodlands received runners up awards which have the potential to be outright winners in future awards according to the judging panelCommunity woodland – James Deegan’s woodland in Carrigmeal, Stradbally, Co Laois was praised because “it is different to most community woodlands around the country in that it was planted on private land by one man with a fantastic vision,” according to the judges.

Production – Jonathan Sykes, Drumcollogher, Co Limerick for his forest, which is managed according to continuous cover principles under the guidance of Padraig OTuama, Pro Silva Ireland.

Teagasc farm forestry – James and Martina Ham’s 20-year old forest was praised because it integrates forestry with mainstream farming.

Slane Castle Estate –is managed by Veon Ltd and adopts an organic approach by not using herbicides especially to treat invasive laurel.

The judges presented a special merit award in the Native Woodland Conservation category to Mark Robins and his team of volunteers in managing Myross Wood near Skibbereen, Co Cork. Other shortlisted projects and future potential winners were: Carrigmeal Woodland, CoLaois; Fr Twomey’s Woodland, Co Waterford; Mary Keegan, Co Meath; John and Áine Woods, Co Louth; Altidore Estate, Co Wicklow; and Paul Maguire’s forest, Co Mayo.

The 2024/25 awards will accept entries from next June.