Coillte has established a new, non-profit wing that will focus on species diversity and biodiversity. The new body, named Coillte Nature, will focus on the environment and recreational forests. Its first project will be to redesign nine commercial forests in the Dublin area for recreational use.
The national forestry organisation said its new body will "target the delivery of new woodlands to facilitate species diversity, biodiversity and carbon sequestration" as part of the Government's National Forestry Programme.
An inaugural project of Coillte Nature will be the Dublin Mountains Conversion which will redesign nine Dublin forests - Ticknock, Barnaslignan, Carrigolligan, Kilmashogue, Ballyedmonduff, Massey’s Wood, Hell Fire, Cruagh and Tibradden - for recreation and biodiversity.
Coillte has worked with the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Dublin City Council, Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council, South Dublin County Council and representatives of outdoor recreation groups to promote recreation in this area for the last 10 years.
During this time Coillte has seen visitor numbers climb to more than 600,000 per year, making these forests some of the most visited outdoor attractions in the region. It is hoped that the new project will increase these visitor numbers further.
Conversion from commercial forests to recreational forests will involve a mixture of continuous cover forestry (CCF) and removal of commercial species and replacement with non-commercial native tree species.
The project is being jointly funded by Coillte and the three Dublin local authorities with grants for native woodland conversion being provided by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
The full cost of developing the project has not been finalised but the cost for Coillte will be in the region of €2 million. Coillte Nature hopes to expand to other parts of the country over the next four or five years on a partnership basis where it is viable.
Bernie Gray, chairwoman of Coillte, said Coillte Nature will allow the body to provide "a valuable environmental and social dividend to society at large".
"Coillte Nature, which has been set up on a not for profit basis, will have a strong focus on carbon sequestration, species diversification, biodiversity and the development of forestry recreation activities," Ms Gray said.