The Forest Service is responsible for ensuring the development of forestry within Ireland in a manner and to a scale that maximises its contribution to national socio-economic well-being on a sustainable basis that is compatible with the protection of the environment. Its strategic objectives are:
- To foster the efficient and sustainable development of forestry.
- To increase quality planting.
- To promote the planting of diverse species.
- To improve the level of farmer participation in forestry.
- To promote research and training in the sector.
- To encourage increased employment in the sector.
The main strategy of the Forest Service is to develop the forestry sector via a range of financial incentives by:
- increasing planting and the range of species planted,
- facilitating the development of the forest processing sector and
- training farmers and others in forest management techniques.
The planting target was 25,000 ha/year up until the year 2000 and 20,000 ha/year from 2001.
Despite a high level of planting in recent years, Ireland remains the least forested country in the European Union. By the end of the year 2004, the national forest estate stood at 680,000 ha. This represents almost 10% of Ireland's total geographical area, compared to the 35% average throughout the other EU Member-States.
The Strategic Plan, set out in the document 'Growing for the Future - A Strategic Plan for the Development of the Forestry Sector in Ireland', foresees the output of timber from Irish forests increasing four-fold between now and 2030. This raw material has great industrial potential in the years to come. Ireland's mild climate produces timber that grows very rapidly. As a result, it has relatively poor strength properties but, at the same time, produces high-quality fibre that is ideally suited for board and paper production.
Primary processing of timber output from Irish forests comprises two complementary sectors: sawmills and board mills. There are currently 6 large sawmilling firms, 10 medium-sized mills and over 30 small mills in Ireland. The 10 largest of these employ some 1,100 people.
Forestry and the Environment
As part of the Department's policy to ensure compatibility between forestry development and the protection of the environment, the Forest Service is implementing Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) with a view to ensuring that all timber produced in Ireland is derived from sustainably managed forests. This work is in accordance with Ireland's commitment to the six pan-European criteria for SFM adopted at the Third Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe, Lisbon, 1998. The implementation of SFM within Ireland is supported by the Irish National Forest Standard, the Code of Best Forest Practice and a suite of environmental guidelines (relating to water quality, landscape, archaeology, biodiversity and harvesting) as well as the work of the Forestry Inspectorate and the ongoing review of Irish forest legislation.
Control of Felling
Under the 1946 Forestry Act, landowners are required to give notice of intention to fell trees, following which Prohibition Orders are normally served. These remain in force pending the issuing of a Limited Felling Licence, which can include environmental and replanting conditions. General Felling Licences are normally granted to large estates where a management programme is in place, or for lands where scattered trees must be cleared in order to enable new planting or for silvicultural thinnings.
Research and Development
The Forest Service has responsibility in Ireland for the promotion of research in forestry and forest products. These funds were expended by COFORD (The National Council for Forest Research and Development) on a wide range of research projects relating to reproductive material, silviculture and forest management and wood processing and product development.