Coillte’s new €2bn forestry strategic plan includes the establishment of 100,000ha of new forests by 2050 and 30,000ha of rewetting and rewilding “redesigned” peatland forests, in addition to its annual reforestation programme.
Launched last week, the plan places strong emphasis on the company’s contribution to meeting Ireland’s climate targets.
It would create 1,200 additional direct and indirect jobs “in rural communities to enable the just transition to a low-carbon economy in Ireland”, said Imelda Hurley, CEO of Coillte. She stressed the company’s contribution in achieving net zero.
“Coillte’s afforestation ambition is to enable the creation of new forests, providing a carbon sink of 18m tonnes of CO2, and we will also manage our existing forest estate to capture an additional 10m tonnes of CO2 by 2050,” she said.
The plan includes increasing the company’s biodiversity areas from 90,000ha to 134,000ha, which Hurley said was “twice the area of the National Parks and Wildlife estate”.
Coillte aims to increase this area by a further 70,000ha, which would result in “around half the company’s land being managed primarily for nature by the end of the century”, maintained Mark Carlin, managing director of Coillte Forest.
The announcement of a return to purchasing and planting land marks a major new departure for Coillte. It ceased purchasing land for planting in the mid 1990s, when an European Commission ruling prohibited State grant aid to the semi-state company.
Bernie Gray, Coillte chair, said the afforestation programme was dependent on a changing licensing system and increasing land availability for planting.
“Coillte would support a national land use policy,” she said, when asked about identifying land suitable for forestry.
The 100,000ha afforestation programme – costing €1.7bn – will be a public-private partnership, co-funded by Coillte, State grants and private investment. The plan is to create a 50:50 mixture of commercial forests and native woodlands.
The need for more forest recreation sites features prominently. The importance of amenity forests was further emphasised during the pandemic, as footfall increased considerably, maintained Hurley.
“We will double the number of recreation forests to 500,” she said, while “€100m will be invested in world-class visitor destinations to support growth in tourism and recreation by 2030.”
Carlin outlined the company’s role as a timber producer and processor of climate-friendly products.
“Coillte will produce sustainable wood products that in 2050 will displace 2.7m tonnes of CO2 per year from fossil-based products such as concrete, steel and plastic,” he said. “We will produce a sustainable supply of 25m m3 of Irish certified timber that can help Ireland achieve its housing ambition of 300,000 new homes by 2030.”
A major challenge for the company and the sawmillers is to increase timber frame homes from 20% to 80% by 2050, which is the current level of timber frame construction in Scotland.
Creating dialogue with stakeholders is an important aspect of the plan, according to Hurley.
“Having outlined our ambition, we will now commence a series of consultations with key stakeholders and the public on our new forestry strategic vision, ensuring that our ambitions for both the existing Coillte estate and new forests under management are aligned with the needs of society,” she said.