Ireland’s forest estate continues to expand

Over half (50.8 per cent) of forests are in public ownership.

The national forest estate is still expanding and has now reached 11 per cent of the total land area, with a wide variety of forest types, according to Ireland’s third National Forest Inventory (NFI), which was recently published.

Total forest area has increased from 697,842ha in 2006 to 770,020ha in 2017. The increase in area is a result of afforestation and the inclusion of pre-existing forests for the first time during the third NFI cycle.

The NFI assess the extent and nature of Ireland’s forests, both public and private and is the culmination of three year’s work by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
Commenting on the publication, Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine with responsibility for forestry, Andrew Doyle said: “The third NFI, undertaken by my Department, gives us accurate, up-to-date information about the extent and changing nature of Ireland’s forests. This publication is very much the go-to reference document for anybody interested in the latest situation on forestry and land-use in Ireland. Repeated NFI cycles have provided results on aspects such as forest area change over time and the growing contribution that Ireland’s forests are making to national environmental priorities including tackling climate change.”

Key findings of the third National Forest Inventory include:

  • Over half (50.8 per cent) of forests are in public ownership, the remaining 378,663ha are in private ownership. The share of private forests in the national forest estate has increased by over 6 per cent since 2006.
  • Leitrim is the county with the highest percentage of forest cover (18.9 per cent), while Cork has the largest forest area (90,020ha).
  • Conifer are the dominant species present, representing 71.2 per cent of the stocked forest area while broadleaved species accounted for 28.7 per cent.
  • In general, the forest estate is young with nearly half (44.9 per cent) less than 20 years of age.
  • The total growing stock volume of Irish forests is estimated to be over 116 million m³, an increase of over 19 million m³ on 2012. Gross mean annual volume increment between 2013 and 2017 was 8.4 million m³ per year, while the mean annual standing volume felled within this period was 4.9 million m³ per year.
  • Since 2013, 36,447ha of forest were thinned for the first time. Overall, the area thinned and clearfelled between 2013 and 2017 increased by 11 per cent and 17 per cent, respectively, which is a positive trend for wood mobilisation.
  • The national forest estate is an important and expanding sink for carbon, at 312 million tonnes. Based on the NFI data, Ireland’s forests have removed an average of 3.8Mt of carbon dioxide equivalents per year from the atmosphere over the period 2007 to 2016. This carbon resource has proven to be of pivotal significance in Ireland achieving its Kyoto target under the first commitment period of 2008-2012.
  • There is an important biodiversity resource within Irish forests, with many non-tree plant species and lichens frequent across the forest estate. Large quantities of deadwood are present within the forest, with over 10.4 million m3 of deadwood present.
  • Overall, the forest estate appears healthy. While nearly half (44.1 per cent) of stocked forest areas displayed signs of forest damage present, the severity of the damage was low.