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Forestry, Bogs, Wetlands and Climate Action

Published: 2 January 2020
From: Department of the Taoiseach


1. Introduction

The total area under forestry is currently estimated to be 770,020 hectares or 11% of Ireland’s total land area; the highest level in over 350 years. The European average however stands at 33.5%, meaning Ireland has one of the lowest levels of forest cover in the EU. Nearly 391,358 hectares, just over half, of Irish forestry is in public ownership.

Ireland has invested nearly €3 billion in the expansion of the forest estate since the late 1980s through successive forestry programmes. Planting targets were set in the Forestry Programme 2014-2020 and restated in the 2016 Programme for Partnership Government. Under the current programme, afforestation rates have been an average of 5,500 ha per year.

Benefits of forestry include:

  • Forestry provides verifiable removal and storage of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, trapping a principle greenhouse gas that causes global heating.
  • Forestry provides important resources for the bioenergy supply chain and the wider bioeconomy [internal link to bioeconomy section], including timber products, which can act as a less carbon-intensive substitute for materials in construction and related sectors.
  • Forests can provide recreational spaces for people, bringing community, wellbeing and tourism benefits.
  • Mixed plantations (e.g. of broadleaf and conifer) in particular can help to address the biodiversity crisis by providing space for wildlife habitats and species diversity.
  • Forestry provides multiple other ecosystem services, including cleaner air and water.
  • Forestry, and its associated paper, pulp, timber and wood processing industries, provides employment opportunities, including in rural Ireland.
  • Afforestation provides an opportunity for farmers to diversify their production bases and farm income for the future.

For more on environmental benefits of forestry see here and for further details on the economic and practical benefits see here . For more information on climate change and Irish forestry see here .

The Government is committed to increasing afforestation rates beyond existing levels and will aim to achieve 8,000 hectares a year to reach our forestry land cover target of 18% by the second half of this century. This will be achieved through engagement with a range of landowners, from farmers to state bodies and local authorities.

An attractive suite of financial incentives have been in place for a number of years to promote increased afforestation rates, sustainable forest management and wood mobilisation.

2. Ambitions and targets

Of the 34 high level actions identified in Agriculture, Forestry and Land Use Chapter in the Climate Action Plan , 11 of these are related to forestry with a number of steps necessary for delivery. The main high level actions include:

  • Increase plantation rates to 8,000 ha target /year in order to reach our forestry land-cover target of 18% by 2050;
  • Build 125 km of new forest roads / year;
  • Progress recommendations of the Mid Term Review related to the Forestry Programme;
  • Increase number of Knowledge Transfer Groups (KTGs) which promote sustainable forest management and mobilisation of timber amongst forest owners;
  • Identify and address barriers to afforestation and timber mobilisation;
  • Promote forestry generally through Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine/Teagasc/industry initiatives;
  • Assess potential of state owned land for afforestation;
  • Continue tree breeding programmes improving resilience and adaptation;
  • Monitor and protect the forest estate, including from potential disease outbreaks;
  • Promote timber products and renewable energy as key outputs of forestry.

3. Actions completed to date

- Increases in grants and premiums across all relevant schemes e.g. increase in broadleaved and diverse conifer categories, 2nd thinning for woodland in place, continuous cover pilot scheme now operational, trees shelter and hare fencing introduced.

- Promotional campaign of forestry continues, with the first of 15 DAFM-funded promotional projects across Ireland held in Counties Kerry and Leitrim in Q3 2019. The Woodland Festival in Leitrim (one of the DAFM funded projects), which gave a broad overview of forestry and its benefits, was particularly well attended, while the Forest Connections event in Kerry highlighted recreational and education use of forests by all age-groups.

- Similar promotion was held at National Ploughing Championships by both DAFM and Teagasc with a forest harvester simulator available on the DAFM stand for use by public plus merchandise highlighting forestry role in climate change mitigation.

- 37 new knowledge transfer groups were approved at end Q2 2019.

- Two new companies signed up for Woodland Environment Fund that aims to provide an access point for individual businesses to help expand Ireland’s native woodland resource, by providing additional incentives to encourage landowners to plant new native woodlands.

  • Continue to implement tree breeding programmes for key species to increase productivity and resilience and increase species diversity in the national forest estate (Action 119): Selection and breeding programmes in progress. Significant work ongoing in developing a Forest Genetic Resources strategy through the COFORD Council with key species identified.
  • Promote the DAFM felling decision tool and other forest management tools (Action 120):This tool is freely available and allows forest owners to determine the impact of felling crops at different rotation lengths. Click here for access.
  • Establishment of Coillte Nature: Coillte has established a not for profit entity, Coillte Nature , which will focus on the environment and recreational forests and undertake large discrete projects with a separate non-commercial focus. Coillte Nature will target the delivery of new woodlands facilitating species diversity, biodiversity and carbon sequestration as part of the Government’s National Forestry Programme.
  • Ongoing monitoring and surveillance of the forest estate to identify and act on any potential forest health issues identified (Action 123): for detail on tree diseases click here , and forest health and seeds, click here .
  • Assess the potential for State-owned land to be used for afforestation (Action 127): The first phase of this Bord na Mona project will focus on the creation of native woodland on around 1,500 ha over 3 years in counties Offaly, Laois, Westmeath and Tipperary. The initial design for the creation of these woodlands was developed by a team of internal and external experts. Discussion will continue with other state-owned bodies to determine areas suitable for afforestation and this measure will continue in 2020.

Bogs and wetlands

1. Introduction

Our bogs are an important part of our national heritage, not just for us but for wider environmental concerns. Our mild Atlantic climate has resulted in the widespread development of bogs of different types ranging from the blanket bogs of the west and the mountains to the raised bogs of the midlands.

Wetland habitats can range from the very small (like a freshwater spring) to habitats which dominate the Irish landscape such as lakes and rivers, as well as bogs. They are home to a large diversity of plant and animal species and form an important network of ecological sites for many species in migration. In addition to their biodiversity value, wetlands contribute significantly to our economic wellbeing and quality of life in a number of ways:

  • Performance of a vital role in mitigating climate change effects by acting as a carbon store
  • Improvement and maintenance of water quality
  • Reduce the effects of storm and flood events by naturally storing water in the landscape, like a sponge, and releasing it slowly
  • Maintenance of water tables and nutrients in floodplains, thereby helping the production of crops and timber
  • An aesthetic component to our lives, a sense of wilderness and open space, and a place for recreation such as hiking, fishing, shooting, boating and birdwatching
  • An intrinsic part of our cultural heritage in Ireland, providing material for traditional buildings, and contributing to place-names and folklore.

According to the Climate Change Advisory Council, peatlands contain up to 75% of Ireland’s soil carbon stock. Over 80% of peatlands are considered degraded because of historic and ongoing drainage to facilitate peat extraction, agriculture or forestry. The importance of bog rehabilitation is stressed by the Council, including in their 2019 Annual Review , including their ability to act as carbon sinks. Managed rewetting of peatlands presents opportunity to both prevent carbon emissions and also sequester it.

2. Ambitions and targets

  • Restoration of 22,107 hectares of raised bog habitat which will directly reduce/halt carbon loss
  • Establish a number of priority peatland sites as part of a network of climate change related indicators as EU and global monitoring sites
  • Assess the optimum post production after-use across all Bord na Móna peat extraction sites
  • Ensure a Just Transition for communities and areas transitioning from peat production

3. Actions completed to date

  • Assess the optimum post production after-use across all Bord na Móna peat extraction sites (Action 133): Draft rehabilitation plans have been prepared on a bog by bog basis across the entire State and Bord na Móna is currently engaging with stakeholders to update and further detail those plans.
  • Restoring raised bog habitat (Action 134): The Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht is prioritising restoration measures on land in State ownership within designated raised bog sites. Restoration measures on State owned land have been completed in two raised bog Special Areas of Conservation (SACs).
  • Peatland monitoring sites (Action 134): An eddy covariance (EC) tower has been set up at Clara Bog raised bog Special Area of Conservation by the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in collaboration with Trinity College Dublin, enabling long-term monitoring of CO2 exchange from the bog. An EC tower has also been set up at Lullymore, a former production peat-bog, by University College Cork.
  • Established a Just Transition Review Group under the National Economic and Social Council (NESC) working group structures to advise the Climate Action Delivery Board (Action 161)
  • Just Transition in Budget 2020: Government is committed to protecting the most vulnerable as we move towards decarbonisation. Budget 2020 will provide €6 million to a Just Transition Fund targeted at supporting communicates in the Midlands. The ESB has also agreed to contribute €5m to the fund increasing its total value to €11m. This funding will, for example, assist in the retraining and reskilling of peatland workers and support local communities and businesses in the Midlands to transition.
  • Appointment of Just Transition Commissioner: The accelerated exit from peat will be accompanied by a just transition for workers and the Midlands region. In November, Kieran Mulvey was appointed to be the first ever Just Transition Commissioner, to co-ordinate the government's response to an accelerated exit from peat for electricity generation.
  • Midlands Support: €20m will be dedicated to the creation of a new energy efficiency scheme as committed to in the 2019 Climate Action Plan. This scheme will upgrade the energy efficiency of the social housing stock in the Midlands. Budget 2020 also announced €5m for bog restoration and rehabilitation which will restore bogs to their natural habitat and help to capture carbon. This funding will triple the budget allocated for peatland rehabilitation, facilitating at least 70-120 new full-time environmentally sustainable jobs in these areas while also contributing to the important endeavour of reducing greenhouse gas emissions nationally.

Please click here to return to the main climate action page.