Policy on diversification of species

Most of Ireland’s mature forests are the result of afforestation during the 1950s and 1960s. The lands made available for forestry at the time were the more impoverished upland sites and this is reflected in the narrow range of species currently visible s mature forestry in Ireland. Since the mid 1990s and concurrent with both the rise in private afforestation and the development of different grant and premia categories, the range of species planted in Ireland has broadened to include a wider range of broadleaves and conifers. This has become possible because of the increased availability of better site types that offer the possibility of planting a wider variety of conifers and broadleaved species. It also reflects public demand for a greater diversity of tree species in the landscape.

The Society of Irish Foresters’ Position:

  • A fundamental job of a professional forester is to plant the right species in the right place. This requirement to match species to site is dependent on an in-depth knowledge of the different site types prevalent in Ireland and available species.
  • Sitka spruce is the main species of Irish forestry and is set to remain so for the foreseeable future. It has proven itself to be the most productive coniferous species under Irish conditions. It is an easy and cost effective species to establish, versatile in use and tolerates all but the most difficult site conditions.
  • Plantation forestry will develop its own ecological characteristics over a long period. The diversity of any plantation is not measured at any one instant in time or by the species planted. Diversity, in a plantation forest, is cyclical and related to the ebb and flow of interactions with other flora and fauna as the plantation matures.
  • Current market conditions for timber in Ireland favour coniferous afforestation as an investment. Bearing in mind that most planting is now carried out by private individuals, primarily farmers, it is understandable that they should want to plant those species that will optimise their financial return. While facilitating this, foresters should actively encourage species diversity in order to foster and develop markets for different timber species.
  • The Irish forest industry is an important rural employer. It is estimated that over 16,000 people are now employed directly or indirectly in the industry. Most of these jobs are primarily associated with the main coniferous species and any change in national policy with regard to species diversity should take cognisance of this fact.
  • Where soil and site are suitable, broadleaved species should be favoured, particularly high value species such as ash and oak. Diversification can also be fostered through the use of improved stock of native species such as birch and alder on suitable sites. With better quality sites becoming available there is a need to increase the range of conifers planted, including Scots pine, Norway spruce, Douglas fir, western red cedar and larch.
  • Unduly heavy reliance on a single species is, from a national viewpoint, unwise. Diversification of species is desirable in order to reduce the risk of serious pest attack or disease outbreak and to broaden the base of market opportunity.
  • The curricula of forestry training institutions should reflect the increasing requirement for education and training in broadleaved silviculture.
  • A well financed research programme is needed to study the potential of minor species, maintenance of genetic diversity, the effect of global warming, the potential for CO2 sequestration, the non-timber benefits of different species and the optimisation of timber quality through silvicultural practice.