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Ireland’s forestry and woodland cover increases by 12%

Despite the failure to reach annual forestry planting targets in recent years, Ireland’s forestry and woodland cover increased by 12% in the decade to 2021.

A new analysis from the CSO shows forestry and woodland cover increased by 80,000 hectares to reach a total of 760,000 hectares across the country, with the total forestry estate storing 323 million tonnes of carbon.

The analysis shows coniferous forests, which include species such as spruce, increased by 9% in the period, broadleaves were up 18% but mixed forests increased by 20%.

The counties with the lowest and highest forest cover were in Leinster, with Co Meath having just 3.7% cover, while Co Wicklow had 20% cover.

Overall, 11.6% of Ireland is covered in trees, far below the EU average of 38%.

The Government has set an annual afforestation target of 8,000 hectares with the intention to reach 18% cover y 2050.

In recent years planting has fallen far short of that target. In 2023 just 1,600 hectares of new forest was planted here.

Under the newly announced Forestry Strategy, with improved grants and annual premia being offered, it is hoped the planting rate in 2024 will get closer to the target.

So far this year, according to Government weekly forestry updates 677 hectares of new forest planting was licensed in January and February which is well up on 2023, but down on 2022.

In planting terms for the first two months of the year, 154 hectares of forestry was planted, up from 113 hectares in the same period last year, but lower than the 326 hectares planted in January and February 2022.

Meanwhile, Minister of State responsible for Forestry Pippa Hacket said Ireland has planted 5 million native trees in the last three-and-a-half years.

She was speaking in Brussels where she committed on behalf of the Government to plant millions more trees as part of an EU-wide programme

“I am delighted to be able to say here in Brussels today that 5 million native trees have been planted under my Department’s Afforestation schemes since May 2020. The EU’s 3 Billion trees pledge is an important tool for countries to help support climate, sustainability and biodiversity goals across the EU. Between now and 2030… I am confident we will contribute millions more native trees towards the 3 billion goal.”

The European Green Deal sets out commitments and targets, reinforced in the EU’s Biodiversity and Forest Strategies, for protecting and restoring nature.

One of the commitments is the pledge to plant at least 3 billion additional trees in the EU by 2030.

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