Ministers agree common goals for continental woodland at conference

SOME 46 European ministers have agreed common political goals for the long-term protection of the continent’s woodlands at the sixth Forest Europe conference in Oslo, Norway.

With a brief that goes beyond the EU’s 27 member states, the 46 Forest Europe members have also signed up to a new European Forests 2020 charter, a legally binding agreement on sustainable forestry management. Previous codes in the group’s 21-year history had all been voluntary.

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine Shane McEntee said: “This decision is a watershed in the history of the heretofore voluntary Forest Europe process. If we are to continue to reap the immense benefits and to release the enormous potential benefits that a healthy and vibrant forest sector can bring to our society, our forests must be managed in a sustainable way.

“Sustainable forest management can be further improved and more widely applied if this conference fully embraces the ambitious vision set out in the Ministerial Decision, European Forests 2020. I believe that this vision, where all our forests contribute effectively to sustainable development, where they support a green economy and address the many environmental challenges that beset this region, can and will become reality.”

The protective measures are detailed in European Forests 2020, which presents a new vision for Forests in the pan-European region. The ministers also established an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee with the mandate to develop a legally binding agreement on forests.

The Oslo meeting follows previous Ministerial sessions in Warsaw in 2007, Vienna in 2003, Lisbon in 1998, Helsinki in 1993 and Strasbourg in 1990. The sixth Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe was organised under the joint chairmanship of Spain and Norway, and was hosted by the Norwegian Minister for Agriculture and Food.

Meanwhile, Irish landowner interest in forestry is also on the increase. Some 400 people attended Teagasc’s recent annual national demonstration of “Small Scale Harvesting, Extraction and Timber Processing” in Knocknagoshel, Co Kerry.

This annual event, organised by Teagasc, in conjunction with the Forest Service, highlighted the benefits of forest thinning on crop quality and value. The demonstration focused on practical, workable solutions to help optimise the returns for owners of small conifer and broadleaf forests.

There are an estimated 5,000 hectares of forests due to be thinned in 2011 and achieving this could potentially put almost €2.5m directly into farmers’ pockets.

While most of the felling and extracting in Irish forestry is carried out by harvesters and forwarders, a minimum volume of timber is required to justify the transport and use of such large and expensive machinery.

The demonstration presented other options for owners of small forests to manage and thin their crops. A variety of timber harvesting, extraction and processing contractors shared their expertise with those attending on the day.

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