Forestry policy – who decides?

A step backwards

Sir, – Following on from your interesting coverage of the Coillte/Gresham House forestry deal on the extent of public concern, and on carbon credit ownership, I would also like to highlight the fundamental question of who decides the direction and shape of forestry policy in Ireland.

The State forestry company Coillte has committed its management services and public money to a private company, Gresham House, whose primary objective is shareholder return.

Despite three years of hard work, and much public consultation on changing the nation’s forestry toward the establishment and management of native woods, and industries, the funding for State forestry development has been committed to short-term, single species plantations of exotic conifers, for commercial returns, and to offset carbon emissions. This is a step backwards in Irish forestry development, according to vocal public opinion from around the country. The terms of this fund were agreed even before the new Irish Forestry Strategy was approved by Minister of State for Land Use and Biodiversity Pippa Hackett in December 2022.

A step backwards because commercial returns from forestry can also be made from native woodlands. The Irish Forestry Strategy includes the long-held national vision for investment in the development of native woods, and associated industries. Whether large or small scale, part of newly established native woodlands could be conserved, and part could be managed for coppice harvest, for example, where new shoots of native trees are cut for sale as fuel wood, biomass or poles. This very commercial return would pay for the upkeep of the conserved part of the wood, and is an ancient forestry practice, common in Europe. But in Ireland, the skills and the land to do this have to be bought in, and the learning curve required reflects the lack of training and investment in the native wood, and its industries by the State. This is where the State funding is needed, instead of extending a century-old model of State forestry that has fundamental environmental, and social issues.


Just as important is how a native woodland ecosystem effectively offsets carbon emissions. A living native wood locks away carbon in its biodiverse ecosystem, provides truly sustainable hardwood for construction, and protects against changing climate, besides being a special place for all who interact with it. But the large-scale re-afforestation of native woods in Ireland can only be accomplished by the State by long-term coordinated planning, public investment, and protection. Establishment of native woods in Ireland requires the same taxpayers’ money that has gone into establishing the State conifer plantations over the last 100 years, where instead of draining and ploughing the ground, the money goes into fencing, transplanting local seeds, and training. After approval of the Irish Forestry Strategy, it was expected that there would be a national programme of reafforestation, to be developed between Coillte, public agencies, and the many people in the forest and wood sector.

However, the agreement signed by Coillte with Gresham House Investment Company will effectively privatise State forestry development by using up any taxpayer money for future forests. And as the land will be owned by the investment fund, there will be no guarantee of future Irish involvement, or ownership of land or trees. Instead of finding and selling land to an international investment company for short-term plantations, Coillte could be finding land to develop native woods in every county, for Irish communities, for farmers, for landowners, on behalf of the nation.

It begs the question: does Coillte have the remit to take responsibility for the development of the nation’s native forest lands? And are there any other ways of drawing down State grants for Coillte to plant new woodland instead of having to go through an international investment company?

Thus, it would seem that the first opportunity for public investment in national, country-wide native woodland development since the foundation of the State in 1922 has been cut off before it has had a chance to be discussed, with no public consultation. The vision of the first Dáil to reintroduce native woodland and its industries on behalf of the nation in every county might have to wait another 100 years to be realised. – Yours, etc,



Honorary Associate,

The Environmental

Humanities Centre,

Trinity College Dublin,

Dublin 2.