Ireland needs to focus on conifer-based commercial forestry and not planting small native woodlands, the Ibec group representing the sector has said.

Forest Industries Ireland (FII) director Mark McAuley said the growth of Irish forestry has slowed dramatically and an emphasis on financially supporting commercial scale forestry for farmers is needed.

"We need to get back to what works in Irish forestry and that is a firm focus on providing an attractive financial option for farmers and concentrating on conifer-based commercial forestry.

"We need to bring things back into the real world and encourage farmers to plant valuable crops of commercial trees.

“All forests we plant today have diverse tree species and biodiversity areas, but we need to also look after the financial return to the landowner, otherwise they won’t plant,” he said.


McAuley added that FII supports all types of forestry, but Ireland needs more than native woodlands for a scalable industry.

“It is naive to think Ireland can create a scalable forestry model based solely on nature forestry and native woodlands.

“If we want to see farmers plant in large numbers, then they have to see a good commercial return from their valuable land.

“We need more forestry to diversify our agricultural land use and help fight climate change. To do that, we need scale and not reduce our forestry ambitions to only planting small areas of native woodlands,” he said.

Climate targets

The FII director said forestry is a big player in Ireland’s climate targets and it is the scale conifers can deliver that will help meet these targets.

“We were planting over 20,000ha per annum in the 1990s, when there was a strong focus on conifers and developing our national timber resource.

“This sort of scale is how forestry delivers on climate targets.

“Today, we are only planting around 2,000ha per annum because of ever-increasing restrictions on forestry and the dilution of the commercial forestry model.

“Too much land is excluded and conifers are not being prioritised,” he said.

The Government’s greenhouse gas strategy envisages growing forest cover to between 14% and 18% of total land use by 2050, by which time the combination of new forests and harvested wood products should deliver a sink of circa 5m tonnes of CO2, the FII said.

The group added that with carbon prices set to top €200/t, this would save Ireland €1bn in future carbon costs under its legal commitments.