Forests now cover 11.6% of Irish land, new figures show

The national forest estate currently covers 11.6% of the total land area and includes a diverse range of forest types, according to figures compiled for the National Forest Inventory survey for the Department of Agriculture Forestry and Food.

Conifers make up 69.4% of forests, with broad-leave trees making up 30.6%.

By 2050, the Government wants 18% of the land to be covered with forests.

The active afforestation and organic growth of the forestry are the causes of the current increase.

The overall area of trees in Ireland has increased from 698,000 hectares in 2006 to 809,000 hectares now, and for the first time, the majority of the country’s woods are owned by private individuals, primarily farmers.

The national forest estate as a whole holds 323.5 million tonnes of carbon while also being a rich source of biodiversity.

The survey finds forests appear healthy overall, although some show sign of damage from animals, competing vegetation, exposure and nutrient deficiency.

The Government’s new forestry programme worth €1.3 billion over a number of years aims to continue to increase forest cover year-on-year and is mainly targeted at farmers, who can access annual premium payments for 20 years, the rates of which have risen by up to 66%.

The National Forest Inventory records and assesses the extent and nature of Irelands forests, both public and private.

Minister of State with responsibility for Forestry Senator Pippa Hackett has welcomed the findings from the survey.

“Overall we are seeing that the national forest estate is still expanding and has now reached 11.6% of the total land area, with a wide variety of forest types present,” she said.

“The increase in area is a result of afforestation and the natural development of semi-natural forests on areas such as those previously used for industrial peat extraction.

“Between 2006 and 2022 semi-natural forests are responsible for one-third (33.1%) of the new forest areas captured.

“I’m also pleased to note that the share of broadleaf species in the national forest estate now stands at 30.6%, an increase of 5.9% since the first NFI results were published in 2006, and we have designed the new incentives for broadleaf planting in the Forest Strategy Implementation Plan to drive this figure further.”

The total growing stock volume of Irish forests is over 142 million m³, an increase of over 25.5 million m³ since 2017.

The balance between increment and fellings is an important indicator as it describes the sustainability of wood production over time, the current availability of wood and the potential for the future.

Gross annual volume increment between 2017 and 2022 was 10 million m³ per year, while over the same period the mean annual standing volume felled was 4.1 million m3 per year.

For the first time the forest ownership balance has changed, where now private forest owners, mainly farmers, now own approximately 50.9% of the national forest estate with the remainder in public ownership, mainly Coillte.

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