Native woodlands represent a unique and valuable cultural,ecological and economic resource. They were once intimately associated with ourculture but are now in danger of becoming a forgotten legacy of our past. For thousands of years the landscape of Ireland was covered by a mosaic of forest composed of oak, ash, elm, hazel, yew and other native trees and shrubs, only atiny fraction of which remains today. It is estimated that approximately 6,000 years ago approximately 80% of the landscape was clothed in native woodland.
Today, the native woodland resource is in multiple ownership and scattered throughout the island. Until recently, there was a lack of national focus in regard to their identity, welfare, long-term sustainability, societal interaction and the need to restore the resource to its former status. Though some efforts have been made to manage and enhance existing nativewoodlands, it has generally been very localised and fragmented. The history of these woodlands is not a happy one - by the turn of this century, less than 1%of Ireland's once extensive native woodland resource remained.
Woodlands of Ireland was formed to represent a broad cross section of native woodland stakeholders through native woodland projects and initiatives. The need to improve public awareness at all levels of society and to give expression to our cultural diversity though the medium of our native woodlands was central to these activities.
The restoration and rejuvenation of Ireland’s existing semi-natural woodland estate in partnership with other native woodland stakeholders is a priority. This also includes the establishment of new woodlands composed of native species. A key component is to provde technical support through training, technical publications, policy initiatives and relevant research.
Woodlands of Ireland aims to continue to provide technical support to the Forest Service for the Native Woodland Scheme (NWS), especially in promoting its uptake in the private and public sectors. The current Forestry Programme has a target of 1,950 hectares re Conservation of existing native woodlands and 2,700 hectares re the Establishment of new native woodlands between now and 2020. The Scheme will target, in order of priority native woodlands of highest conservation value (i.e. EU Habitats Directive Annex 1 woodlands, Special Areas of Conservation, National Heritage Areas, Ancient woodland, Riparian woodland (especially new woodland establishment adjacent rivers and streams in sensitive, high water status catchments), emerging/scrub and local community native woodlands. We will continue to fine tune the NWS with the Forest Service at intervals, and provide further input to the NWS manual and accompanying ‘Technical Bulletins’ publications, woodland management initiatives, accreditation training for NWS foresters and ecologists, and the promotion of adequate supplies of Irish sourced native trees and shrubs via the nursery sector.
As Chair of the Steering Committee (SC) of the Irish Forum on Natural Capital (IFNC) we will continue the co-ordinating role in IFNC via direct engagement with the SC and Secretariat in discharging its duties. This will raise the profile of the importance of Natural Capital and attempt to have it integrated more widely in business and public financial accounting systems.
We will continue to advance a national deer management strategy via our membership of - and technical input to - the Irish Deer Management Forum (IDMF) and the FORDEER Research project.
This year, we will initiate the publication of guidelines re silvicultural management in Aquatic Buffer Zones (ABZs) in conifer plantations arising from a recently-completed riparian research project, i.e a 4-year COFORD-funded project called Combined Research in Riparian Zones (CROW) of which Woodlands of Ireland was a research partner. The guidelines will focus on sensitive harvesting techniques and the re-establishment of native riparian protective woodland in order to safeguard water quality and enhance biodiversity.