Expanding the Forest Resource in Co Wicklow
County Wicklow is the Garden of Ireland but also has a rich tradition in forestry, boasting the Avondale Estate, which is considered the ‘cradle’ of Irish forestry. Wicklow has the largest proportionate forest cover by county with over 44,500 hectares, equivalent to almost 22% of the land area in forestry.
While over 15,000 hectares of this forest area is in private ownership, significant further opportunities exist for farmers and landowners to diversify into a forest enterprise and thereby capitalise on an outstanding natural resource which is the focal point for a sustainable and thriving forest industry within and outside the county.
In their assessment of potential land availability for afforestation in the Republic of Ireland, Farrelly and Gallagher (2015) identify over 17,000 hectares in County Wicklow classed as being marginal for agriculture and with significant scope for afforestation. The returns from farming on this type of land have been limited, with lower profitability than on land deemed productive, as indicated by the Teagasc National Farm Survey data (Moran 2014).
Forestry may offer a very viable alternative particularly on soils that are more difficult to manage while also complementing and enhancing existing farm enterprises. As well as multiple benefits provided at farm level, new afforestation provides the future raw material to maintain a sustainable processing sector with its many additional benefits. Increased afforestation rates may offer significant scope to mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions with the potential to contribute towards sustainable agricultural expansion.
As well as commercial forest enterprises, there may also be scope to expand the native woodland resource on appropriate sites in County Wicklow, providing additional environmental benefits, including habitat creation and water quality protection in Natura areas as well as in areas designated as Acid Sensitive. Wild deer populations present significant challenges to agriculture, forestry and conservation, necessitating best practice in their sustainable management. New woodlands, where at least 70% is planted with broadleaf/diverse conifers will be considered eligible for deer fencing.
Landowners with suitable land are encouraged to avail of the excellent infrastructure available through government funding, agency supports as well as industry and NGO back-up. The Teagasc Forestry Development Department provides independent advisory, training and research support to private forest owners. It can also provide one-to-one assistance for landowners in County Wicklow and beyond, focusing on land suitability, how a forest enterprise can improve farm income and how it interacts with existing farm schemes.
Teagasc provides on-going technical advice on the management of forests of all ages for existing forest owners. Teagasc also facilitates and supports the activities of forest owner groups. The Wicklow Private Woodlands Owners Group (WPWOG) was formed in June 2008. The group’s main objective is to foster and promote the interests of private woodland owners in County Wicklow and adjacent areas. The group has contact with 150 owners and holds regular information days and produces a regular series of updates to forest owners through the provision of newsletters and other information sources.
Teagasc are available and are working with the forestry sector to ensure landowners with suitable land are fully aware of the potential provided by forestry on their holdings. The Teagasc Forestry Development Department organise consultations as well as regular local, regional and national events which include the latest advice on land use options, technical insights and promotion of best forest practice.
To avail of these services, contact your local Teagasc forestry advisor, Frances McHugh on 059-9183486.