What Is The Economic Value Of Forestry In Ireland? (Explained)

Ireland’s forests provide a range of economic, social and environmental benefits. This article examines the key economic contributions that forestry makes in Ireland.

Direct Economic Value

Ireland’s forests generated €2.2 billion in direct economic value in 2016, accounting for 0.8% of GDP. This includes:

Timber Production

The timber industry is a significant contributor to the Irish economy. Ireland produced over 3 million cubic metres of roundwood in 2020, valued at €330 million. This supported over 12,000 full-time equivalent jobs.

The majority of timber harvested is processed for wood panel board products, pallet blocks, stakes, post and pulpwood. A small proportion is used for higher value products like construction timber.

There is potential to expand the Irish forest products sector by utilising more of this timber for construction, developing new forest product markets and increasing renewable energy production.

Recreation & Tourism

Recreational visits to Irish forests are estimated to be worth €97 million annually. Over 18 million visits are made to Irish forests per year, supporting 1,100 full-time equivalent tourism jobs.

Activities like walking, running, biking and wildlife watching are extremely popular. Increased investment in facilities and infrastructure could further boost forest recreation and nature-based tourism.

Game & Seed Production

Forests provide habitat for game species like deer, pheasant and woodcock. The Irish game industry contributes €40 million annually through hunting tourism and game meat production.

Native Irish woodlands are also an important source of seed for forestry, habitat restoration and horticulture.

Job Creation

Forestry sustains over 12,000 full-time equivalent jobs in Ireland across timber production, processing and forest management. An additional 1,100 tourism jobs are supported through recreation visits.

With the expansion of Irish forestry, it’s estimated up to an additional 2,200 new jobs could be created in the timber and bioenergy sectors.

Environmental & Ecosystem Services

As well as goods we extract from forests like timber, they provide a range of services and non-market benefits.

Carbon Sequestration

Forests remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and lock it away in biomass and soil. This makes them a natural climate solution.

It’s estimated Irish forests sequester 4.8 million tonnes of CO2 annually, equivalent to Ireland’s total agricultural emissions. This plays a key role in climate change mitigation and helps Ireland meet emissions reduction targets.

As forests grow and increase in area, their carbon sequestration capacity will expand substantially. This is projected to reach 8.8 million tonnes of CO2 per year by 2046.

Air & Water Quality

Trees filter air pollutants like particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide from the atmosphere. Forest cover has been linked with improved air quality and human health.

Forest vegetation and soil stabilise water flow, filter sediments and absorb pollutants. This regulates water quality and reduces costs for drinking water treatment.

It’s estimated that water quality improvements from Irish forestry are worth €8 million per year.

Soil Health & Fertility

Tree litterfall and roots enhance soil organic matter, boosting soil biodiversity and nutrient cycling. This increases long-term soil functioning and land productivity.

Incorporating forests into agricultural landscapes helps conserve healthy soils. Agroforestry can complement and enhance the economic viability of farming.

Habitat Provision

Although most Irish forests are non-native conifer plantations focused on timber production, they still provide habitat for flora and fauna. Canopies, understory vegetation and open spaces host a diversity of birds, mammals and invertebrates.

An increasing emphasis is being placed on close-to-nature silviculture to enhance biodiversity conservation. Retention of riparian buffers, open spaces and native trees supports priority species.

Over time, new native woodland creation will deliver even greater habitat provision and connectivity across fragmented forest ecosystems. This will bolster ecosystem function and resilience.

Future Potential

Ireland has an abundant suitable land area where new forests could be created sustainably.

It’s estimated the forest cover could triple from 11% currently to 30% by 2100. This would involve afforesting marginal agricultural land mainly in the west and midlands.

Project Woodland estimates that reaching 30% forest cover would:

  • Sustain 44,000 jobs across forestry value chains.
  • Deliver €2.3 billion in added value annually by 2050.
  • Mitigate agricultural emissions by storing 20 million tonnes of CO2 per year.
  • Enhance water quality through reduced nutrient leaching.
  • Create diverse woodland habitats.

Achieving this potential requires long-term policies supporting substantial afforestation using both conifer and native broadleaf species.

Planting grant incentives, research and supply chain development will be necessary to deliver climate, biodiversity and rural development goals.

Key Takeaways

  • Forestry currently contributes €2.2 billion to the Irish economy annually.
  • Over 13,000 jobs are directly supported through timber, processing and tourism.
  • Irish forests help mitigate climate change by sequestering 4.8 million tonnes of CO2 per year.
  • New native woodland creation provides opportunities to conserve nature and enhance ecosystem services.
  • Sustainably increasing Ireland’s forest cover to 30% could create 44,000 jobs and sequester 20 million tonnes of CO2 per year by 2050.

Here’s the continuation of the article:

Challenges & Barriers

While Irish forestry has major economic potential, there are challenges to fully realising this:

Investment Risks

Forestry is a long-term venture with over 20 years from planting to harvesting. This timescale deters some farmers and investors.

Providing incentives, support schemes and risk management tools could attract more private capital into new forest establishment.

Resource Constraints

Expanding planting requires more nursery capacity, forestry workers, machinery and infrastructure like forest roads.

State bodies are working with third-level colleges to increase education and training programmes in the forestry sector.

Investment in mechanisation, scaling nursery stock production and improving planting grant rates will ease resourcing pressures over time.

Social Acceptance

In some communities, large-scale afforestation on agricultural land has faced opposition and perceived impacts on rural sustainability.

Better landscape design integrating new native woodlands with existing habitat and heritages sites can enhance social acceptance.

Community-based schemes that allow locals to be actively involved in, and benefit from, new forest creation also have an important role to play.

Market Development

While sawmilling, wood panel board production and pallet manufacture account for most forest product output currently, developing higher value markets would enhance the sector’s growth.

Areas like wood energy, forest chemicals, and construction present opportunities if supply chains can be established. Leveraging innovation and partnerships with industry will be important in building these new markets.

Policies for Change

Achieving Ireland’s forestry potential requires changes across policy, incentives, regulation, research and community engagement.

Some initiatives that would drive transformation include:

Streamlining Licensing

A one-stop-shop for applications, integrating forestry with environmental assessments and clarifying guidelines, would simplify establishing new forests.

Making licensing processes more transparent and efficient would enable more planting and reduce operational risks.

Incentivising Broadleaf Afforestation

Currently over 90% of afforestation is with conifer species like Sitka spruce.

Increasing premium payments for native woodlands would incentivise more broadleaf establishment to enhance biodiversity.

Allowing hardwood timber products to access renewable energy supports could also drive mixed species planting.

Expanding Agroforestry

Integrating trees into agricultural landscapes through agroforestry has significant potential to develop more climate resilient, sustainable food systems.

Providing research, incentives, training programmes and establishing demonstration farms would accelerate agroforestry adoption.

Investment in Innovation

Supporting research and innovation networks across nursery technology, forestry equipment, timber construction, biorefining and digital services offers opportunities for Irish companies to become world-leaders in sustainable forest products and nature-based solutions.

Government funding to leverage private investment in emerging areas like precision silviculture and forest genetics would yield dividends economically and environmentally.

Backing start-ups and entrepreneurs could create green jobs across rural Ireland.

Conclusion

Irish forestry has the potential to triple its economic contribution to over €6 billion through new planting and developing forest product markets. This would sustain 44,000 rural jobs and sequester 20 million tonnes of CO2 annually by 2050.

Delivering this growth requires innovation across policy, incentives, business models and practices to establish resilient, mixed-species forests integrated with vibrant rural communities.

By unleashing Ireland’s forest potential, a revitalised sector can empower a just transition for people and nature in the shift towards a sustainable, post-carbon future.

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