over a New Leaf" By Stephen Milton
FORESTS ARE amongst the earths most complex
ecological systems, whose dynamic processes and functions we do
not yet fully understand. Each year, millions of acres around the
world are destroyed. Ireland is no stranger to this environmental
topic of concern. Until medieval times the country was heavily forested
with oak, pine, beech and birch. However, logging and clearcutting
for industrial, residential and agriculture development has seen
our tree cover reduced to just 10 per cent (1.2 million hectares)
with most designated for commercial use.
Tiny pockets of native forest can be found scattered around the
country, in particular in the Killarney National Park but with Irelands
booming economy, the situation looks grave.
In comparison to the average of 36 per cent, Ireland is the least
afforested country in the EU. Yet trees grow up to three times faster
in Ireland than elsewhere in Europe, so the situation is still salvageable.
Irelands C02 emissions per capita are
among the highest in the world and we need to increase the level
of forest cover dramatically to help counter the effects of increasing
pollution emissions. Under the Kyoto Agreement, Ireland is committed
to C02 emission levels of 8% above 1990 levels by 2012, or just
under 54 million tons of gases. At present, Ireland has already
exceeded its agreed emission levels.
Forests are internationally recognised as a major factor in the
capture and storage of carbon dioxide. In response, a series of
government aided and independent initiatives has been implemented
to reverse this ecological catastrophe. This witnessed Irelands
growing commitment to ecoforestry methods.
With emphasis placed on holistic practices, ecoforestry strives
to protect and restore natural environments rather than maximize
economic productivity and reject practices like clearcutting, high
grading, and pesticides.
Ecoforestry is considered by some to be a traditional practice,
whereby people tend to an area of forest, helping it to grow sustainably
over many years. The techniques involved promote self- regulating
forest ecosytems with a diversity of species and natural habitats
in harmony with landscape, weather, soil, water flows, and animals
As the world becomes more conscious of environmental issues consumers
are increasingly seeking reassurance that the goods they purchase
have been produced in an eco-friendly and sustainable fashion. Certification
and eco-labeling have become an important means of giving that independent
reassurance and Forest Certification is a way of assuring consumers
that the timber or timber products they buy come from sustainable
or well managed forests.
A number of organisations and initiatives have been established
in Ireland to promote ecoforestry. Coillte was established in 1988
as a private limited company under the Forestry Act 1988 which set
out its objectives and duties. The company is owned by the Minister
for Finance and the Minister for Agriculture and Food.
The organisation owns over 445,000 hectares of land (approx.7% land
cover in Ireland). Since 1989 Coillte has acquired 52,000 hectares
and increased the estate by a further 12,000 hectares through the
Farm Partnership Scheme and leases;
79% (352,000 ha) is forested, the remainder comprises areas such
as open space, water roads. In addition to forests and lands that
are managed commercially, the Group owns many thousands of hectares
of native and other broadleaved woodlands, bogs, lakes, moors and
other lands that have significant environmental value.
Coillte has been credited for making one of the biggest contributions
to ecoforestry, significantly increasing the tree population. For
more information contact www.coillte.ie
The Lisnavagh Timber Project has also contributed to eco-friendly
forestry. Believing that there was a gap in the market for homegrown
hardwood timber, William Bunbury believed that the Lisnavagh, a
family run farm and stately home in Co. Carlow could fill that gap.
Over the next couple of years, we began to become an established
part of the small to medium scale homegrown hardwood market in Ireland
- some would say that we are leading the field, explains
William. Our annual sales have doubled or tripled each
year since we began business.
In 2004, we expanded the operation by building a kiln, establishing
a workshop and setting up a new office. We started dimensioning
timber for customers and making items such as kitchen worktops,
bookshelves and other joinery items.
Currently, the project has been widely successful in producing eco-friendly
forest material. For more information contact www.irishwoods.com
Irish ecoforestry may not be widely noted as a significant factor
in reducing carbon emissions, but it can make a big difference.
However, much more funding and research needs to be implemented
in order for it to make a real difference.