Forests and the forestry sector


Covering 659 000 ha, forest occupies less than one-tenth of Ireland¿s land area, making it one of the least forested countries in Europe. Plantations make up most of the area of forest, with some remnants of forest undisturbed by humans; none is classified as semi-natural. Virtually all forest is available for wood supply. The plantations are mostly young and the principal species are introduced, mainly Sitka spruce and lodgepole pine.

The area of forest is increasing rapidly (3 percent per year in the 1990s) as a result of afforestation programmes, with the share of broadleaved species gradually increasing. Net annual increment is above the European average, especially in the plantations, because of intense management and good growing conditions. Net annual increment is considerably higher than annual fellings because of the age-class structure of stands. Ireland¿s forests are relatively free from pests and diseases and the effects of air pollution.

Within the past 15 years or so the structure and scale of Irish forestry have changed dramatically. Annual afforestation increased from some 7 000 ha in 1986 to an average of 17 000 ha in the 1990s (24 000 ha in 1996). Around two-thirds of the forest is owned by the State, but this share is declining as private owners have come to account for a much greater share (almost three-quarters) of new planting. Farm forestry is emerging as a major new component of the sector, to the point where farmers account for some two-thirds of private planting.

The State forestry company Coillte Teoranta (the Irish Forestry Board) was established in 1989 and has since brought a clearer commercial focus to public forestry, placing an emphasis on cost effectiveness and efficiency, and generating substantial profits in recent years. Coillte Teoranta is the largest landowner in Ireland, with a forest estate of 442 000 ha, of which almost 384 000 ha are forested. Coillte is committed to the concept of sustainable forest management and in mid-2001 was awarded Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification.

Products and trade
Ireland has small, but growing roundwood production commensurate with its expanding forest cover. Most of the roundwood produced in Ireland (approximately 94 percent) is harvested from plantation forests owned and managed by Coillte Teoranta established over the past 70 years. The overall forest estate, excluding plantations under ten years old, is adding incremental volume of 3.3 million cubic metres annually, of which about 80 percent is harvested depending on market demand.

The majority of the production consists of softwood logs for the domestic sawnwood and panel industry. The sawmill industry has increased capacity over the past few years and therefore the need for log imports is growing. Ireland has a relatively large oriented strand board (OSB), particle board, fibreboard and medium-density fibreboard (MDF) industry, and part of the production is exported. Ireland imports all of its paper and nearly half of its sawnwood. The Irish market for construction timber has grown substantially in recent years. Consumption of forest products per capita is around the European average level.

Roundwood production in 2002 amounted to 2.71 million cubic metres (overbark), an increase of 6 percent over the previous year¿s production. A further increase in roundwood production was expected in 2003, due principally to increased demand from the sawmilling sector.

The overall consumption level for timber in 2002 was estimated at over 1.4 million cubic metres, up on the demand in 2001 of 1.2 million cubic metres. Exports increased, especially export of construction material to the GB market.

There are currently six large sawmilling firms, ten medium-sized mills and over 30 small mills in Ireland. The ten largest of these employ some 1 100 people. Some 16 000 people are employed directly and indirectly in Irish forestry throughout all areas of the country. The build-up of Irish forestry should allow the country eventually to become self-sufficient in wood products.

Among non-wood forest products and services, Christmas tree production and tourism are the most important.

Wood as an energy source has not been developed beyond a very localized scale.

Last updated: October 2003

last updated:  14 January 2016