IRISH FORESTS - HISTORY AND OWNERSHIP

Its common knowledge that Ireland has a low forest cover, now about 10%. How this happened is through a combination of events involving climate and mans activities. The glacial period, which ended about 10,000 years ago molded Irelands present landscape. When the land bridge to Europe was cut off a limited number of tree species remained (SEE SPECIES). BIRCH had come in first followed by the other broadleaved species and SCOTS PINE.

Due to colder and wetter weather impoverishing western, central and mountain areas and combined with mans activities pine died out about 2000 years ago.

While forests diminished due to farming there were still significant areas of forests until Tudor times when a combination of demands of wood for housing, ships, smelting and the wine trade together with the Elizabethan Wars eventually reduced forests from around 12 % to 1-2% by the 18th Century. The remaining vestiges were located in South Wicklow, Killarney, and Leitrim and along the Bann.

Some reversal of this trend took place from the mid 1700s to the mid 1800s when incentives were offered to the estate owners who were now more securely established and exotic species like chestnut and European conifers were brought in, followed by American species, usually in walled demesnes. The end of the oak shipbuilding industry meant there was more focus on conifers for structural use. However by the early 1900s the area under forest was less than 1% The LAND ACTS didnt help matters when many estate owners lost interest in tree growing and the new farm owners had little enthusiasm for creating or maintaining woodlands.

Around that time there was general agreement that something had to be done and following much committee work involving a new Department of Agriculture a scheme of State planting was commenced with the purchase of some estates including AVONDALE. This continued after independence and virtually all new forests were state owned until the 1990s. Various Forest laws were enacted to maintain and protect trees and facilitate new planting. By the end of the20th c a forest industry based on NW American conifers had been built up, much of it in western counties and in mountainous areas. Since 1990 growth of the forest area has been mainly through farmer and private owner planting on grassland and the total area are now 700k ha.

From the mid 1990s there has been a growing interest in sustainable forest management, biodiversity and conserving and establishing native woodlands. This is regulated by environmental guidelines and codes of practice