As has been widely reported in recent days, Coillte have announced a deal with British Investment Fund, Gresham House. The deal amounts to a corporate land-grab of Irish forestry. Coillte’s policy - to facilitate a foreign investment fund  to buy land and benefit from grants and forestry premiums, while Coillte does all of the planting and maintenance on the land - is problematic. It will have profoundly negative impacts on rural communities, on Irish farming and on biodiversity. It is well established that the industrial model of plantation forestry has had, and will continue to have, disastrous impacts on wildlife, water and soil quality, as well as sustainable afforestation. 

An Taisce, which is a statutory consultee for afforestation licensing, has long criticised the forestry licensing model for failing to protect nature and prevent water pollution. Despite the ongoing work of Project Woodland, established in 2021 to develop a new forest strategy for Ireland through stakeholder consultation, we have yet to see any tangible improvements in the safeguards which the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) are putting in place.

Dr Elaine McGoff, Natural Environment Officer for An Taisce, says: 

“The Government has been consulting with stakeholders and seeking opinions repeatedly, but at the end of the day, what we’re getting is more of the same, with no reassurances that we’ll have the necessary about-turn in what we’re planting and where. 

Coillte has a bad track record in terms of the damage its plantations have done, and continue to do, to Irish biodiversity. So, to have them managing vast tracts of land without reassurances about what is to be planted and where and how it will be managed does not bode well for our biodiversity and water quality. 

This deal will end badly for the environment and will disenfranchise rural communities. We need more trees, but we need to do it the right way, with public buy in,  and this is not it. This deal will benefit the investment funds and Coillte, but it’s a bad deal on all other fronts. “

There are alternatives to the model Coillte is pursuing, and solutions for the creation of better forestry in Ireland do exist.

  • A forestry spatial plan for Ireland should factor in biodiversity and water sensitivity mapping. To date, planting has been ad-hoc, and to achieve any of the co-benefits afforestation must be strategic, with a plan for what is to be planted, where and why.
  • Coillte’s mandate must be brought in line with current environmental and societal expectations, with regard to water quality, biodiversity loss and the climate crisis. The Programme for Government is committed to ensuring that Coillte’s remit supports the delivery of climate change commitments and the protection of biodiversity, but at present, Coillte is mandated to prioritise business interests and profit. As long as Coillte is bound by this legal mandate, any consideration of biodiversity or climate will be secondary, or incidental. 
  • The state should directly invest in land to be planted sensitively, for and by the public. Community-owned forestry models not only give autonomy to locals but create for an ethic of care and bridge gaps between us and nature. 

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