The Irish want more forests but not to produce more wood
A large public survey indicated that only 1% consider 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 of leisure and tourism (17%) and to fight against climate change (15%).
This emerged in a survey of public attitudes that was part of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine’s extensive engagement and consultation in developing the recently released report. Shared national vision and forest strategy for the future of forests.
For the public attitude survey, 1,012 adults were interviewed last November. The 769 people who said they would like more forests in their county were asked why, and only 4% chose “to improve the landscape”, 2% chose “to support the economy and rural development” (although 88% agree that forests can support local communities by creating jobs).
“Places of learning and education” was the most important choice for 1%; and “self-sufficiency in wood and wood” for 1% (even if 37% of respondents use wood as fuel in their homes).
However, when the responses of people living in rural areas were analyzed, the importance of wood use increased to 52%, highlighting the use of wood as a source of fuel by rural communities.
The public attitudes survey also sought opinions on what is perceived to be an ideal Irish landscape. For the majority (38%), it is where “the forest and agriculture are present, and fairly balanced”.
For 27%, forests would be a “major feature of the landscape”, and a similar proportion suggested that “agriculture is a dominant feature, but forests are present”.
Among the farmers and their dependents in the survey, there was support for more widespread afforestation. Of all respondents, 29% visit forests at least once a week.
About three in four respondents would like to see more forests in their county, with a similar percentage wanting to see more trees in their nearest urban area. In the sample of 769 who would like more forests in their county, when asked which trees they preferred, 72% said a mix of conifers and hardwoods.
An online public consultation survey open to all Irish citizens, in spring 2022, also contributed to the shared national forest vision. It received 35 open submissions and 3,148 responses, with 87% believing that “Ireland needs more forests”. Of those who would not like more forests in their county, 62% were from Co. Leitrim.
The economic impacts of forests were recognized in the online consultation survey. 55% agreed that public access to private forests should be made easier, with those who disagreed appearing to be driven by factors such as concerns about liability, insurance and anti-social behavior.
Only 5% disagreed with the use of more wood products in the construction of Irish homes, but 26% were undecided. However, 27% disagreed that Ireland grows and harvests enough fast-growing conifers (estimated to be the source of 80% of the world’s timber).
The online survey asked where people would like to see more forestry. There was a preference for more forest on all land types, but a lower preference for more forest on agricultural land.
The preparation of the shared vision published by the Minister of State for Forests, Senator Pippa Hackett, was also based on 641 responses to the Irish Rural Link survey on the local impact of trees, woods and forests across Ireland.
The vast majority (85%) of respondents in this study believe that ‘the current level of forest in Ireland is too low’. But 31% felt forestry had a negative impact on their communities and landscapes, and 27% felt it had a negative impact on biodiversity.
An online youth forum Foróige has also contributed to the development of a shared national vision for forestry. It showed that young people associated 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, supporting a sustainable and prosperous economy and society and a healthy environment.
“By 2050, Ireland’s forests and woodlands will be seen as a symbol of the transformational social, economic and environmental changes that were needed to address the climate, biodiversity, housing and health emergencies of the 2020s. “
A much larger and more diverse forest; a valuable and compatible part of the agricultural enterprise; 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.