Woodlands of Ireland is a not-for-profit company with charitable status. The initial shoots of this project were established in 1998 to focus attention on Ireland’s native woodland resource through the development of a millennium woodland project. Woodlands of Ireland was formed to represent a broad cross section of native woodland stakeholders through native woodland projects and initiatives. The need to improve public awareness at all levels of society and to give expression to our cultural diversity though the medium of our native woodlands was central to these activities.
The restoration and rejuvenation of Ireland’s existing semi-natural woodland estate in partnership with other native woodland stakeholders is a priority. This also includes the establishment of new woodlands composed of native species. A key component is to provide technical support through training, technical publications, policy initiatives and relevant research. The key target areas regarding native woodlands agreed after a review of objectives conducted subsequent to consultation with stakeholders in 2011 and adopted early in 2012 are:
- Policy advocacy
- Training/education/technical expertise
- Community networking/partnerships, and
- Support implementation
Some of the above are not mutually exclusive.
A Board of Management comprising Trustees/Directors provides overall guidance and ensures societal relevance meets at least four times a year. A Technical Advisory Panel was also established to ensure that whatever woodland project proposals were conceived, they would have a sound scientific and ecological base. Core funding is provided annually by the Heritage Council, The Forest Service, Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and National Parks and Wildlife Service, Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.
In early 2011, the Board of Management decided to form a Private Limited Company with Charitable status with the Companies Registration Office. In June 2011 the Company ‘Woodlands of Ireland Project’ trading as ‘Woodlands of Ireland’ was formed (Company number: 499781) and charitable status was granted in April 2012 (Charity number: 20079079). The Company was registered with the Charity Regulatory Authority (CRA) in 2015. The Memorandum and Articles of Association (Constitution) of the new Company reflect the objectives set out when the project was initiated in 1998 and was submitted to the CRO during the process of incorporation.
Ireland’s Native Woodlands: Context
Native woodlands represent a unique and valuable cultural, ecological and economic resource. They were once intimately associated with our culture but are now in danger of becoming a forgotten legacy of our past. For thousands of years the landscape of Ireland was covered by a mosaic of forest composed of oak, ash, elm, hazel, yew and other native trees and shrubs, only a tiny fraction of which remains today. It is estimated that approximately 6,000 years ago approximately 80% of the landscape was clothed in native woodland. Today, the native woodland resource is in multiple ownership and scattered throughout the island. Until very recently, there was a lack of national focus in regard to their identity, welfare, long-term sustainability, societal interaction and the need to restore the resource to its former status. Though some efforts have been made to manage and enhance existing native woodlands, it has generally been very localised and fragmented. The history of these woodlands is not a happy one - by the turn of this century, less than 1% of Ireland's once extensive native woodland resource remained.
The current focus on native woodlands is mainly derived from conservation and from forestry interests. It is well known that forest ecosystems contain species that are not found elsewhere and deserve special attention. However, focusing on individual species is not enough - the whole ecosystem must be maintained in order to conserve its many inhabitants.
Native Woodlands: Threats
Today, many woodlands are threatened by a number of factors, principally the invasion of non-native species, especially rhododendron and laurel, overgrazing by deer and livestock, and developments resulting in clearance. Urgent action is required to control these threats and to secure the long-term future of affected woodlands.
Native Woodlands: A Strategic Approach
With the advent of Woodlands of Ireland, partnerships between State and private native woodland stakeholders, other Environmental NGOs (ENGOs), woodland- and land-owners, professional foresters and ecologists and woodland contractors, considerable progress has been made. Specifically, relevant legislation, resources, projects, community and management initiatives over the past two decades or so, has helped provide a focus toward restoring and creating new native woodlands. The establishment of new native woodlands is being encouraged to allow the area of this habitat type to be expanded.
A Native Woodland Strategy 2016-2020 was developed by Woodlands of Ireland in consultation with Stakeholders.
70% of the Native Woodland Scheme Establishment targets in that strategy were achieved but only c.14% of the Native Woodland Scheme Conservation measure targets were achieved.
This is strategy is currently under review.