Written by Margaret Symon, RPF, PCP – CIF Vancouver Island Section
When asked why we had come to Ireland, the typical response was: “A forestry tour of Ireland? – well, that shouldn’t take too long.” True, Ireland’s forestry is now in its “infancy” phase. A thousand years ago and more, however, forests occupied most of the country. Over the centuries, due to human activity and a deterioration of the climate, Ireland experienced a near-total destruction of its forests: from an initial forest cover of around 80% to less than 1%. Ireland is the only country is Europe where such complete forest destruction took place. Ireland has the lowest forest cover of all European countries: approximately 13%. Government policy is to bring the national forest cover to 17%. Farmers receive financial incentives for afforestation.
Forestry is a very complex activity in Ireland. A week was not nearly long enough to untangle the issues surrounding forestry in Ireland.
Nevertheless, we accomplished much in one busy week. Capably organized by Michel Vallee, a veteran leader of CIF international tours, our group of twenty four Canadians included foresters from BC and Alberta across to Ontario. Our tour was hosted in Ireland by Teagasc, the national body that provides integrated research, advisory and training services to the agriculture and food industry and rural communities. We were also hosted by Collite, Ireland’s state forestry, and custodians of estates and businesses on 7% of Ireland’s land.
From Dublin, we bussed to Teagasc’s Ashdown Research Centre, where we received warm Irish welcomes from Nuala Ni Fhlatharta and other senior members of Teagasc Forestry Division. Together with Ted Wilson and Dr. Ian Short, we viewed Teagasc’s tree breeding work and ash dieback research. The Canadian Trade Commissioner joined us in a ceremonial planting of a red maple. Later we toured the Wicklow mountains, where Teagasc is working with the owners of the Knockrath Estate to convert Sitka spruce monocultures into Continuous Cover Silviculture. “Natural regeneration” of mixed species is encouraged beneath conifer stands to enhance yields – and biodiversity – and to reduce browsing potential from deer.
In County Offaly, Collite reviewed with us their work at the Glendine Sitka spruce stand. Rotation age is 40 years, with two thinnings (pulp). Near Killaloe, we visited a private estate leased by Collite for industrial timber and conservation management (highlight included 300 year old sessile oaks). At Castlecomer, County Kilkenny, once the heart coal mining, we visited a different project: a Discovery Park joint venture with the local community, where Collite is responsible for managing the forest estate, recreation, and rural development. The popular park was alive with school groups and adults enjoying a gamut of outdoor activities: rope courses, archery, axe throwing, mountain biking, and a zip line.
Our Teagasc host, Michael Somers, introduced us to the Limerick and Tipperary Woodland Owners at Bansha, where we visited an ash plantation specifically designated for hurley sticks. We stopped at a speciality sawmill / Hurley mill, where we saw ash stumps being sawn into hurley sticks. Ireland produces 800,000 hurley sticks a year.
The Irish culture is deeply intertwined in its forestry. We were fortunate to visit the Cliffs of Moher on the west coast of Ireland, and the Glendalough Monastic ruins in the Wicklow Mountains. We were treated to a Gaelic music (“session”) night in County Tipperary. We wrapped up our trip with a tour of the Glendalough craft distillery, where oak from the Knockrath estate is ideal for to storing Glendalough whisky.
Forestry has an important role to play in Ireland’s future.
Margaret Symon, RPF, PCP – CIF Vancouver Island Section
CIF Forestry and Cultural Tour of Ireland. Tour Group at Birr Castle, Co. Clare
CIF Ireland Tour Group at Glendalough Monastic Ruins, Co. Wicklow
CIF Ireland Tour. Ceremonial planting of Red Maple at Teagasc Research Centre, Ashdown. May 2019