Government policy on forestry is to incentivise private planting of forests given the many economic, environmental and social benefits that forests are proven to deliver. More recently, we have amended this policy to increase species diversity within the national forest estate and increasing afforestation levels across all planting categories supported with higher rates reserved for broadleaf species. Under the current forestry programme, new species have been added to the mix to create more diversity and to target climate change mitigation.
Sitka spruce occupies 343,311 hectares or 51.1% of Ireland's total forested area.
As one of our fastest growing tree species, clearfell typically takes place between 35 and 40 years. It has been grown successfully for over 80 years and it has proven itself to be one of the most productive coniferous species grown in Ireland and, as such, has become the industry’s mainstay in terms of timber processing and end markets. In terms of end use of trees, roundwood harvesting, including firewood, in 2017 was 3.54 million cu. m, the highest level since records began. The majority of this timber was harvested from Sitka spruce plantations. Of this total, 42% was used for energy purposes, making an important contribution to our renewable energy targets. The balance was used to produce 1.05 million cu. m of sawn softwood, mostly for construction, 0.14 million cu. m of round stakes for fencing and 0.84 cu. m of wood-based panels.
In 2017, exports of forest products from the Republic of Ireland were €423 million, an increase of 11.3% on 2016. Wood-based panels accounted for €224 million with the balance comprising paper and sawn timber exports.
As regards the use of pesticides, insecticides and fungicides, there is a relatively low use of these products in the forestry sector. Chemicals may only be used that are statutorily approved as safe to use in forestry by the regulator.