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Coillte public consultation highlights importance of forestry in tackling climate crisis

45% of respondents believe Coillte’s ambition to create 100,000 hectares of new forests by 2050 doesn’t go far enough

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3 November 2022 | 0

There is a near universal view among the general public that Irish forests are important in helping to address the climate crisis, research carried out on behalf of Coillte by RED C into public attitudes to Coillte’s new forestry strategic vision has found.

In April of this year, Coillte, the semi-state forestry company, announced a new forestry strategic vision which aims to deliver multiple benefits from its forests and bring more focus to climate action, setting ambitious new targets on biodiversity and recreation, while continuing to deliver for the forest and wood products industry.

The new approach aims to sustainably balance and deliver the multiple benefits from Ireland’s state forests across four strategic pillars:  climate, wood, nature, and people.

RED C has independently analysed feedback from both Coillte’s public attitude survey and Coillte’s public consultation process, completed during summer 2022, which was part of Coillte’s commitment to consult widely with key stakeholders on its new strategic vision.

Climate mitigation

The figures are based on the responses to the RED C survey, conducted among a nationally representative sample of adults in June 2022, combined with responses to Coillte’s public consultation process.

It found there is a strong degree of support for planting more trees and increasing forest cover with four in five Irish adults in the RED C survey agreeing with this, while support is even higher in the public consultation.

In terms of climate mitigation, there is overwhelming support for planting trees such as broadleaves that provide a long-term store of carbon. There is also strong support for conifers among the general public, with 75% of respondents agreeing that planting conifers that grow quickly and capture carbon at a high rate, is important for climate mitigation.  Opinions on conifers are more polarized among respondents to the public consultation.

While 45% of those who responded to the public consultation believe Coillte’s ambition to create 100,000 hectares of new forests by 2050 doesn’t go far enough, 44% of the general public believe this ambition is just about right.

The majority agree with Coillte’s ambition to redesign (rewetting or rewilding) peatland forests where they present a significant carbon emission risk.

Importance for nature

An overwhelming majority believe that Irish forests are important for nature and biodiversity. Similarly, there is almost unanimous agreement that Coillte has a role to play in addressing the biodiversity crisis.​ However, there is relatively low awareness that approximately 20% of Coillte’s estate is already managed primarily for biodiversity, especially in the public attitude survey.

​There was a divergence of views on Coillte’s ambition to ensure that half of the 100,000 hectares of new forests will be native woodlands, with the majority of respondents to the public consultation agreeing that this was too little, while 51% of adults from the general public agreed this ambition was just about right.

Wood ambitions

A majority of Irish people believe that Irish forests are important in supporting the construction of sustainable homes. There were high levels of support evident that more timber frame houses should be built in Ireland rather than using concrete or steel with 64% of respondents from the public attitude survey, and an even higher level of 84% of respondents from the public consultation, in agreement.

There was also a high level of endorsement with almost unanimous agreement (at least four in every five) for Ireland to be self-sufficient for its timber requirements, that wood should come from independently certified forests and that Coillte should innovate and promote wood products to support the bioeconomy and de-carbonise our built environment.

Public spaces

Forests are seen by the public as hugely important in terms of providing spaces for both outdoor physical activity and also for mental health and wellbeing. In line with this, a strong majority agree with Coillte’s ambition to double the number of recreation sites to 500. ​Three in four believe that these new recreational forests should be located both near population centres, and in rural areas.​

Peace and quiet is rated as the most important feature of a forest site. Personal safety, along with welfare and exercise facilities are also deemed important as are map boards and way marked trails.  Adventure experiences and coffee or snack facilities are deemed of lesser importance.​

A strong majority endorse Coillte’s ambition to enable investment in world-class visitor destinations on the estate to support growth in tourism and recreation, while three in four believe that Coillte forests are important for rural employment and economic activity.

Balancing benefits

More than four out of five respondents to both the public attitude survey and public consultation asserted that balancing the benefits of Coillte’s forests across the four pillars of climate, nature, wood and people is important. Almost half of those who took part in the public consultation believed that Coillte’s ambitions were appropriately balanced, while almost three in 10 disagreed. One quarter had a neutral viewpoint.

Coillte’s new strategic forestry vision proposes a range of innovative actions designed to result in a total capture of approx. 28m tonnes of CO2 from the environment by 2050 across the four pillars of climate, wood, nature, and people.  Among the ambitions are:

  • Coillte aims to enable the creation of 100,000 hectares of new forests by 2050, supporting the delivery of one-third of Ireland’s afforestation target
  • Coillte’s afforestation ambition is to enable the creation of new forests providing a carbon sink of 18m tonnes of CO2. Coillte will also manage its existing forest estate to capture an additional 10m tonnes of CO2 in its forests, soils, and wood products by 2050
  • Coillte plans to produce 25 million m3 of certified Irish timber, helping Ireland achieve its housing ambition of 300,000 new homes by 2030. It will also promote the increased use of wood products to raise the level of timber homes from 20% to 80% by 2050
  • Coillte intends to increase the area of its forest estate being managed primarily for nature from 20% to 50% in the long term, by enhancing and restoring biodiversity and planting new forests, half of which will be native woodlands
  • Coillte plans to enable the investment of €100 million to create world class visitor destinations by 2030. In addition, it will double the number of recreation areas nationally to 500, to support local communities and the Irish tourism sector
  • New strategic vision will be underpinned by Coillte’s commercially successful business and aims to enable the creation of 1,200 direct and indirect jobs in rural communities to support the just transition to a low carbon economy in Ireland.

Coillte is responsible for the management of 440,000 hectares of Ireland’s forests, which represents 7% of the country. Coillte’s purpose is to manage the state forests on behalf of the people of Ireland. Since its establishment in 1989, it has enabled the development of a vibrant forestry and wood products sector that supports rural employment throughout Ireland.  While sustainability has always been central to the way in which Coillte manages the forest estate, Coillte believes that the growing climate and biodiversity crises, as well as societal demands for housing, jobs and wellbeing, are driving a need for greater change in how we balance the multiple benefits of forestry.

“We are very encouraged by the feedback from the Irish public, from both the RED C public attitude survey we commissioned and the public consultation process, which is overall very positive regarding our new forestry strategic vision and endorses our view that we are moving in the right direction,” said Imelda Hurley, chief executive, Coillte.

“We developed our new vision based on our belief in Coillte’s ability to contribute positively to the climate crisis.  We have always managed our forest estate as sustainably and effectively as possible, and now we are keen to further enhance our contribution, with clear ambitions for afforestation, biodiversity, and developing more great spaces for people to enjoy.  Equally, it is very important that we maintain our focus on delivering sustainable wood products and that Coillte remains financially strong, in order to effectively deliver our new vision.”

Feedback from Coillte’s public attitude survey, public consultation and ongoing stakeholder engagement will be considered as part of the development of Coillte’s strategic vision.

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