A major public poll found that only 1% ranked the production of wood and renewable products as the most important reason for new forests, compared to places for wildlife (38%), places for relaxation and mental health (21%), places for recreation and tourism (17%) and combating climate change (15%).
This emerged from a public opinion poll that was part of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine Conservation’s broad engagement and consultation in developing the recently released Common National Vision and Forest Strategy for the Future of Forests.
1,012 adults were interviewed for the public opinion poll last November. The 769 who said they would like more forests in their district were asked why, and only 4% chose “to improve the landscape”, 2% chose “to support the economy and rural development” (although 88% agreed forests can support local communities through job creation).
“Places for learning and education” was the top choice for 1%; and “self-sufficiency in lumber and wood” for 1% (although 37% of respondents use wood for fuel in their homes).
However, when the responses from people living in rural areas were analyzed, the importance of wood use rose to 52%, highlighting the use of wood as a fuel source by rural communities.
The public opinion poll also sought views on what is perceived to be the ideal Irish landscape. For the majority (38%) it is a region where “forests and agriculture are present and fairly balanced”.
For 27%, forests would be a ‘significant feature of the landscape’ and a similar proportion indicated that ‘agriculture is a dominant feature but forests are present’.
There was support for broader afforestation among the farmers and their families in the survey. 29% of all respondents visited the forest at least once a week.
About three quarters of respondents would like to see more forests in their counties, while a similar percentage would like to see more trees in their nearest urban area. In a sample of 769 people who wanted more forests in their county, when asked which trees they preferred, 72% said they had a mix of coniferous and deciduous trees.
An online public consultation survey, open to all citizens of Ireland in Spring 2022, also contributed to the common national forestry vision. 35 open submissions and 3,148 responses were received, with 87% agreeing ‘Ireland needs more forest’. 62% of those who had no other forests in their county were from County Leitrim.
The economic impact of the forest was recognized in the online consultation survey. 55% agreed that public access to privately owned forests should be facilitated, with those who disagreed appearing to have been motivated by factors such as liability, insurance and anti-social behaviour.
Only 5% were against the use of more timber products in the construction of Irish homes, but 26% were undecided. However, 27% disagreed with Ireland growing and harvesting enough fast-growing conifers (which are an estimated 80% of the world’s timber).
The online survey asked where people would like more forestry. There was a preference for more forest on all land types, but a lesser preference for more forest on farmland.
The preparation of the shared vision, published by Minister of State responsible for Forests Senator Pippa Hackett, also drew on 641 responses to the Irish Rural Link study on the local impacts of trees, forests and forests across Ireland.
The vast majority (85%) of this study agrees that ‘the current volume of forest in Ireland is too small’. But 31% felt forestry had a negative impact on their communities and landscape, and 27% felt it had a negative impact on biodiversity.
A Foróige online youth forum also helped develop a common national vision for forestry. It showed that young people associate forests with peace and fun and a place to escape the stress of work, study and isolation during Covid-19.
The shared national vision calls for the right trees in the right places, for the right reasons, with the right management, to support a sustainable and thriving economy and society, and a healthy environment.
“By 2050, Ireland’s forests and forests will be seen as symbolic of the social, economic and environmental changes needed to address the climate, biodiversity, housing and health emergencies of the 2020s.”
A much larger and more diverse forest; a valuable, compatible part of the farm; a thriving and growing forest industry; and Irish-grown timber, the material of choice to replace carbon-intensive building products, are part of the vision.