As such, this public tender offer is separate from the Government decision that a concession for the harvesting rights to Coillte’s forests (which excludes the sale of land) be put forward as part of the sale of state assets. The sale of 1,109 acres has been condemned by farmers and public representatives.
If successful, it would be Coillte’s biggest sale in at least eight years. Each year since 2003, between 800 and 1,460 acres were sold nationwide, for diverse uses including housing, commercial developments, and windfarms. The annual value of land sales varied from €8.96m to €38.67m.
Coillte has also converted nearly 8,000 acres to wetlands, which has contributed to achieving national targets under the EU Habitats Directive.
Coillte has not been in a position to buy land for afforestation since being deemed ineligible for forestry loss-of-income premiums since 1996, but sources say the company has contributed to the national afforestation programme through forestry partnerships with farmers and the provision of forestry services.
Meanwhile, identification of the forestry assets for the harvesting rights sale, the determination of their value, and the consideration of a number of associated issues are at an advanced stage, according to Mr Coveney.
Thousands of recreational forest users and environmentalists have expressed their concern at the proposed sale of the Coillte forest crop, including through Mountaineering Ireland, Birdwatch Ireland, Irish Natural Forestry Foundation, An Taisce, and Zero Waste Alliance Ireland organisations.
They say the Coillte estate is more than 7% of Ireland’s landmass, and includes 11 forest parks and over 150 recreation sites, attracting more than 18m visits a year.
They warn the proposed sale would threaten the current open access policy and lead to a slow decline in the recreational amenities, and have called on the Government to abandon plans to sell off the asset.