24 Jul Most Irish Oak Woodland Planted by Ecoplan
Most Irish Oak Woodland Planted by Ecoplan
In April 2022 the Central Statistics Office published details of Irelands afforestation for the first time. Covering all afforestation’s between 2007 to 2021, the report had several interesting findings. What surprised me most though was that Ecoplan Forestry Limited, the little forestry company which I established in 2007, had planted 20% of the total Sessile Oak woodlands.
Wow, 20% of all the Sessile Oak woodland planting in Ireland over the past 15 years! I was delighted and surprised – I had begun Ecoplan because I was disillusioned with commercial conifer production, and wanted to focus on native woodlands because nobody else seemed to be doing that at the time. I obviously understood the need for a commercial forestry industry, so important in so many ways, particularly for the rural economy, jobs, and incomes, but it never really interested me. Besides, other great Foresters in other outstanding companies were already providing an excellent service to anyone interested in timber production.
While delighted with the stats, I began to realise that there really wasn’t anything to be too happy about, in fact the numbers were truly depressing. The total area afforested in those 15 years was 84,245 hectares, and the Oak accounted for only 0.4%. So why is that figure so low?
For starters Sessile Oak is the Irelands National Tree, it was officially declared as such by Taoiseach Charles Haughey way back in 1990, thirty two years ago. It is commonly known as the Irish Oak. Described as ‘a wonderful tree for wildlife; the leaves are larval food for the purple hairstreak butterfly and many other insects, providing food for birds, and the acorns are winter food for jays, badgers and squirrels – and, long ago, pigs and wild boar.’
The National Biodiversity Data Centre have found that Sessile Oak ‘supports 284 different insect species, 324 lichens, and can live for 1,000 years.’ Basically, as trees go it is one of the very best species in every possible characteristic, and in Sessile Oak woodlands these benefits and advantages are significantly multiplied. So why don’t we see more Oak planting?
Most of Ireland’s forestry companies and consultants specialise in afforestation, they have it down to a fine art at this stage, and they are very good at what they do. And of course, not all land is suitable for Oak as it is a demanding species, deer make it unplantable in large areas of the country, and it is definitely not a commercial species, but surely more than 0.4% should have been planted by now. Forest owners often tell me that they were never given the Oak option, and that seems like it has been the sad truth.
Planting a forest isn’t always a purely financial decision – many want to support the environment, some just want to do something with land they can no longer farm. But do Foresters make the environmental/biodiversity case for Oak alongside the financial case for spruce?
Of course, I don’t really afforest any land, the land-owner does, and I’ve often heard those who plant Oak cynically referred to as philanthropists because they will never see a real financial return. But what about all the land-owners who have zero interest in seeing any money from forestry? Large companies own a lot of land, and never miss an opportunity to ‘greenwash’ their businesses, why aren’t they planting Oak? Or County Councils? Or Coillte with our 500,000 hectares?
Fortunately, Irish forestry is changing as regards our environment, but unfortunately there’s a lot to be cynical about too. Greenwashing is everywhere, and suddenly Foresters with a passion and track record for planting exotic conifers, are now claiming ‘green’ credentials. I suppose it’s a good thing, but I’m a sceptic at heart.
Ecoplan was specifically established for Native Woodland Management, has established more Oak Woodland than anyone else, has probably completed more Native Woodland establishment than anyone else (it’s difficult to get the figures), has completed more Native Woodland Conservation projects than anyone else, and actively manage 8 European designated Annex 1 Habitats. So if you want to plant Oak or native trees, manage your existing native woodland, or just need advice, contact Ecoplan.
You can visit the CSO website to view the Afforestation Area by Species Type 2007-2021