We have one of the lowest percentages of forest cover in Europe (and it’s mostly Sitka spruce, though broadleaf trees now make up 20 per cent of new planting) though we’re supposed to be increasing from the current 7 per cent to 17 per cent cover by 2030. What we do have is owned and operated by Coillte. Two summers ago, the McCarthy (An Bord Snip Nua) report suggested a combination of asset disposal and privatisation of Coillte. Coillte was valued at e1.2bn in 2010, and, according to the Woodland League, a Swiss owned forestry company, The International Forestry Fund, has expressed interest in buying the lot. The chairman of the International Forestry Fund is Bertie Ahern, and his involvement, and the proposed sale, were well covered by the good old Sunday Tribune last year. Last month, the eTenders public procurement website carried a notice inviting tenders from economists to evaluate the assets of Coillte, so clearly it’s been decided that the maths have to be right before any further negotiations kick off.
The Woodland League is asking people to sign a petition against the proposed sale. But what would it mean for Irish forests if they were to be managed privately? When will we find out what’s going to happen to Coillte? At the moment, they have an Open Forest Policy, which means mile upon mile of hiking, cycling, dog-walking, orienteering, picnicking, birdwatching, swimming, tree-climbing, kayaking, canoeing, mushroom-spotting, all open to everyone. Could that really be threatened?
Sunday, March 6th, is the start of National Tree Week, so if you fancy willow-weaving, archery, den building and face painting down at Parnell’s house at Avondale in Rathdrum, get out and enjoy yourselves courtesy of Coillte. Leave no trace – as it says at the entrance to Avondale: leave only footprints, take only memories. Fingers crossed you’ll have the chance to be back again.