Farmers are faced with the dilemma of what to do with the fallen trees

THE havoc caused to some of the country’s forests during last month’s Lá na Gaoithe is only now being fully assessed.

Thousands of trees in State and private plantations and on farms were uprooted or damaged as the fierce wind raged across Ireland on February 12.

The storm knocked majestic trees like the 200-year-old Grey Popular in the grounds of Birr Castle in Co Offaly.

But it also resulted in younger trees being blown down.

Now, forestry plantation owners and individual farmers are faced with the dilemma of what to do with the fallen trees.

Stakeholders in the forestry sector have come together under the chairmanship of the Forestry Minister Tom Hayes to co-ordinate a response. The aim is to assess the damage nationally, identify the various issues that have arisen and that will arise and agree a course of actions.

The group has already issued a guidance note for the sector which lays down the steps to consider in safely harvesting and selling the fallen trees. It also gives advice on a range of other associated issues. Early indications suggest that less than 1% of the forest area and about 1% of the forest volume was blown down, somewhere between 5,000 and 7,000 hectares, mainly in Munster.

Minister Hayes said Teagasc advisers will meet any forest owner for a one-to-one meeting to discuss this and any other forestry matter.

He also strongly urged forest owners to get professional advice from qualified foresters to guide them through this process.

Regarding the role of sawmills following the damage, he said Ireland has an export-focussed, world-class sawmill and panel board sector.

This sector has ample capacity to process the blown material over the next eight to ten months, he said.

Teagasc is advising forest owners to check their plantations when it is safe to do so, and to take action now to ensure severe financial losses can be avoided.

It says most windblown timber can still be salvaged and severe financial losses avoided if the correct action is taken.

Teagasc reminds landowners that operating a chainsaw on windblown trees is extremely hazardous.

Forestry Services Ltd, a private forestry company, said the objective is to harvest any trees blown over and secure income from the sale of timber.

Another company, Forestry Enterprises Ltd said it understands the pain and financial loss forest owners are going through but that all is not lost.

FEL managing director, Daragh Little, whose own forest was destroyed in the storm, points out in the company’s website that the blown timber has substantial value and can be recovered.

“I intend to get back up and running as quickly as possible as demand for timber is high and prices good. I will replant with improved planting stock that will give me better quality timber sooner,” he says.

The damage assessment and salvage plans for the damaged forests went ahead during National Tree Week, which fostered an appreciation of trees and their importance in our communities.

It was organised by the Tree Council of Ireland, with SSE Airtricity and Coillte as main sponsors. The programme included tree planting events with 15,000 saplings donated by Coillte.

Minister Hayes, who launched National Tree Week, said a century ago Ireland’s forests represented just 1% of our land area.

Decades of investment in afforestation by the State has helped to increase that to 10.5%.

“This State investment has helped to create a sustainable natural resource, providing the raw material for a vibrant forest products sector that makes a significant contribution to the economy,” he said.

Minister Hayes also noted a number of environmental benefits derived from forestry in addition to their recreational value.

Meanwhile, thousands of people who will visit forests in the coming months have been reminded of fire risks.

A seminar, hosted by Laois County Council with the Forest Service of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, last week addressed these issues. The aim was to foster greater partnerships at local and national level in relation to wildfire management.

Minister Hayes, who addressed the gathering, said 1,500 hectares of forestry were lost to fire in 2011, almost a quarter of the total new planted area under his department’s afforestation schemes in that year.

“The cost of fire suppression in and replacement of State-owned forests is estimated to have cost over €8m. That figure does not include the value of lost timber crops or the future wealth and employment that would have been generated as a result of their harvesting and processing,” he said.


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