More than 10% of Ireland is under forest, supporting a vibrant and export oriented forest products sector. The sector provides valuable employment, producing products for both home and export markets product. It is a rural based industry sector which integrates well with the agriculture, construction, energy and environmental sector and provides a sustainable basis for the development of Ireland's economy.
Value of forestry and forest products sector to the economy
- In 2007, Irish wood based panel (WBP) exports were worth €262 million while sawn timber exports were worth €71 million.
- In 2003, the total value to the Irish economy of the three wood products sub-sectors (i.e. sawmilling, WBP and other wood products [excluding furniture])was €1.65 billion.
- The Irish wood based panel sector is export orientated, selling more than seventy five percent of its product in overseas markets. Wood based panels are responsible for 62% of the value of Irish timber exports.
Forest Products Information
- Since 1980, over 210,000 hectares of farm & private forests have been established in Ireland. More than 17,000 farmers own & manage farm woodlands.
- The strategic development plan for the Irish forestry sector sets the target that Ireland will have a forest cover of 17% by 2030. However, the planting targets required to meet this target are not being met.
- About 5,200 hectares of semi-natural forests are protected in national parks and nature reserves.
- In 2007, three million cubic meters of round wood was available for processing in the Republic of Ireland. Other forest-based outputs include foliage, bark, nursery plants, Christmas trees and transmission poles.
- Residue material in the form of chips and sawdust is used for energy production and as a feedstock for the production of wood based panels. Bark is used in horticulture.
Non-Timber Benefits of the Sector
- The UK construction market is a key export market for the forest products manufactured in Ireland.
- Four wood based panel facilities operate in Ireland. These produce chipboard / particleboard, Medium Density Fibreboard (MDF) and Oriented Strand Board (OSB).
- Ten sawmills form the core of the Irish sawmill sector. The primary products produced include structural timber, pallet and fencing products.
- There are about 400 firms in the Irish furniture industry. This is made up of a large number of small and dual-purpose firms (i.e. furniture and joinery) and relatively few medium sized commercial firms.
- The timber frame sector is a significant user of both structural timber and of wood based panels. Irish timber frame output has grown from a market share of 5% in 1992 to 30% in 2006.
- Timber is a globally traded commodity and is traded without subsidies or supports. As a result, it is particularly sensitive to exchange rate changes.
The non-timber benefits of forests include bio-diversity, carbon sequestration, wood biomass energy and recreation.
Bio-diversity and Irish Forests
Energy and Environment
- Ireland’s forests create an opportunity to conserve and enhance bio-diversity at both local and national level.
- Careful management of Ireland’s forests is essential to ensure that the bio-diversity they support is not threatened.
- A recent COFORD study (BIOFOREST) has concluded that the promotion of bio-diversity in Irish forests requires the support of good policies and practices. Recommendations arising from this project address many aspects of forestry from strategic planning to localised planning and practice.
- Today, all grant-aided forest development in Ireland must conform to the Forest Service’s forest bio-diversity guidelines. These focus on how best to conserve and enhance biodiversity in Irish forests, through appropriate planning, conservation and management.
There is significant potential for wood fuel to displace fossil fuel, particularly in the generation of heat in industrial, commercial, domestic and institutional markets.
Recreational Benefits from the Sector
- Forest areas are expected to contribute an annual average emission reduction of 2.074 million tones of carbon dioxide (CO2) over the period of the Kyoto Protocol (2008 - 2012).
- Wood is a renewable source of energy, which is carbon dioxide (CO2) neutral. A target has been set to produce 33% of Irish electricity consumption from renewable sources by 2020.
- The Irish forest industry is rapidly developing a range of quality wood fuels, which includes high quality firewood, as well as refined products such as wood chip and pellets.
- By 2015, all peat fired power generation stations will be co-fired with wood biomass (30%). This will reduce Irish carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 900,000 tonnes per year.
- The Irish forestry sector has a key role to play in addressing climate change, through carbon sequestration and through the development of renewable energy resources.
- It is estimated that the rate of carbon storage in Irish forests of pure Sitka spruce is in the region of 3.36 tones per hectare per year.
- Wood is uniquely renewable among building materials.
- Much of the Irish forestry supply chain is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) scheme. This is an independent certification scheme, which shows that the forests and / or forest products endorsed by FSC schemes are well managed and / or are produced in accordance with strict environmental, social and economic criteria.
- Over 200,000 people use forest trails for exercise purposes in Ireland. ‘Walking tourism’ brought approximately 500,000 visitors to Ireland in 2007. The total expenditure by these visitors was €138M.
- A study undertaken in 2005 found that the direct economic expenditure by Irish trail users on items such as food, drink, accommodation and trail equipment was €307 million annually, while the non-market value of such trails was found to be €95 million.