Gresham House and Coillte Land Deal: Statement and Suggestions on Achieving Afforestation Targets

We encourage you to use this message as a template and to contact your Local TD. If this arrangement isn’t stopped, it will be expanded. We must not allow that to happen.

In November last year, the Irish Government announced the largest state investment into tree planting with Minister Hackett affirming “the biggest and best-funded Forestry Programme ever”. Over €1.3 billion was committed to “re-engage farmers in afforestation” by offering between 46%-66% increases in both grant and premium rates per hectare.

There was hope that this new Forestry Programme 2023-2027, which was developed with vibrant public consultation, would remediate the legacy issues of previous policies: 

  • Over 70% of Irish forestry is in conifer plantations (primarily North American spruce) which, although fast growing and easy to harvest, provide NO FUNCTIONAL BIODIVERSITY for native wildlife during their lifetime. Despite increased forestry cover, most of Ireland’s forests are ecological deserts.
  • Over 40% of Irish Forestry is on peatland soil which are carbon rich wetlands and by draining and degradation, may emit more carbon than they sequester (EPA Report no.401).
  • Farmers were abandoned after the Ash Dieback fungal pathogen destroyed their plantations in 2012- creating greater diversity in tree plantations would reduce risk of total crop failure.

This lucrative forestry programme was not missed by London-based Gresham House Fund which is currently assembling a €200 million QIAIF alternative investment fund from investors to buy land in Ireland to avail of these lucrative financial supports. 

The Managing Director of the Fund claimed that their intention is to make “a meaningful contribution to Ireland’s crucial afforestation ambitions” however, it is likely this fund is motivated by the premiums which promise a considerable return on investment:

100,000ha of forestry to include only 20% native broadleaf species equals €62,750,000 in premiums per year or €1,255,000,000 after 20 years: a 600% return on investment before harvesting the crop.

What’s more, Joe O’Carroll, the Forestry Investment Director with Gresham House, stated on RTE 1’s Countrywide Saturday 14/01/23, that the fund would primarily derive a return on its assets through the sale of timber produced. The fund will remain invested for a minimum of 15 years with the option to extend a further 5. After this time the fund may dispose of the assets as they wish.

In the eyes of investors who, due to the structure of the fund, will not pay capital gains tax on their profits, this is an exciting long-term business venture. It is clear that the primary objective of such an investment fund is of course to maximise the return on investment of its shareholders. But this isn’t just a matter of sound business decisions: this is the future of Ireland.

What is profitable in business should not be the sole deciding factor in matters that are so important to the future of this land and all who reside within it. If this fund is successful, then it is likely that it will be expanded. Ireland may be bought-up piecemeal, diminishing lands available to farmers.

These premiums, provided by the National Exchequer, are intended for Irish landowners and should be going into rural Ireland rather than private investment funds. The Irish Government, before enacting new policy this year, must ensure that premiums can not be taken by corporate investors.

It is not surprising that investors in this fund, including a local pension fund for Berkshire (UK) and Canaccord Genuity Wealth Management (UK), are seeking profit; that’s their only key performance indicator. What is surprising is the role of the state-owned forestry business in this land-grab; although the deal is in “advanced stages”, Collite have stated they’re not “in a position to respond to speculation”.

There are constitutional concerns which, in a healthy Republic, should be addressed: the Proclamation of Independence declares “the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland” yet this state-owned forestry business would willingly allow the sell 1.4% of Ireland to a Foreign Fund without any public consultation.

The actions of Coillte are a liability to the well-being of the State and new restrictions must be put in place on the state-owned body to ensure that such deals, which contravene the interest of posterity, are prohibited.

Coillte’s objective is to achieve afforestation targets by 2050. We present here some suggestions which do not require selling an area half the size of Dublin:

  1. New Forestry Programme premiums, which are enticing foreign investors, will be available to farmers within a few months. The scheme must be advertised to landowners. It’s notable that conifer plantations make a poor crop: most are used for sawdust. Native hardwoods take longer to grow but they’re considerably more valuable. Also, during their lifetime, they will bring the birdsong of old Ireland and give their children more than just timber.
  2. The Neighbourwood Scheme grant existed in the last Forestry Programme to support community planting on Public Land. This scheme was severely underutilized because the public does not have access to public land folios. For example, there is 300-acres of land outside Kells (Meath) which is technically owned by the town but in the custodianship of the County Council who rent the fields for grazing. The town could create a new community woodland which would become a wonderful amenity. If public land folios were made public then local communities could choose whether they want a native woodland: imagine if these spaces were made available during Lockdowns.
  3. Irish water quality is declining with agriculture being a primary pressure. Utilizing forestry buffers along waterways in areas of intensified agriculture will protect the water from farm runoff. This requires good inter-departmental communication between the EPA and Forestry Service. Utilizing forestry as a Nature Based Solution will simultaneously protect our waterways and increase forestry cover.

Let us work together to make this Island a land of forests again, a beacon to the rest of the world of how the place with the lowest biodiversity globally became the highest in a generation. In our lifetimes we have seen the rapid progression of Ireland, we are an international success story on so many fronts, let’s continue this trend to our forests.

Four Peaks for Ireland

The Four Peak Challenge is an endurance hike to climb the peaks of Ireland in 48 hours. Beginning at sunrise in County Kerry, you walk into the embrace of Carrauntoohill and ascend the Devil’s Ladder to the highest point in Ireland. And it’s not even breakfast.

The next peak is the Head of the Bald King in Mayo, Cnoc Maol Reidh. Considered the most dangerous mountain in Ireland, its eastern route is an 8-hour journey into the Hall of the King, with some narrow passes and steep drops. The western approach, however, is considerably quicker and less treacherous. Beginning from Silver Strand Beach, the setting sun will guide you up the King’s Cloak and back.Continue reading “Four Peaks for Ireland”

Stop Selling Invasive Species

petition at the bottom of this article TO PROHIBIT
the sale of invasive species in Ireland.

Groundwork was established by students in 1981 to tackle the Rhododendron infestation in Killarney National Park. These volunteers coordinated sweeping exercises across 40-acres for 3-months of the year to remove shrubs and new saplings.

In 2010, after 30-years of successful treatment and removal, the NPWS began refusing Groundwork’s assistance. Choosing to rely instead on contractors, dedicated rangers and international volunteers. 

Continue reading “Stop Selling Invasive Species”

Riparian Forestry: Forests for Water

In December 2021, the EPA warned that increasing demand on our waters, coupled with their deteriorating quality, poses a risk to the “health of a large portion of the population”. As the situation worsens, the consensus emerging is that, despite our best efforts, we can not protect our waters with current policy.

We present a nature-based solution to harness the synergies of an integrated catchment management plan. This innovative solution uses services provided by the natural environment to maximise return on investment. Whilst protecting our waterways, we can simultaneously achieve afforestation targets, store carbon and increase biodiversity. 

Two-thirds of Ireland’s land is under agricultural management which is the most significant pressure on the Irish water environment. Fertiliser, slurry, silt, chemicals and pathogens ‘runoff’ fields into streams, rivers and lakes, especially after heavy rain. This is known as diffuse pollution and is responsible for a large proportion of water bodies failing to achieve good status as required by the Water Framework Directive (WFD).

Pollutants flow directly into watercourse while cattle trample the riverbank.

A riparian buffer zone is a permanent, semi-natural strip of vegetation along a watercourse that intercepts pollution. These buffer zones incorporate trees, shrubs and grasses to attenuate and purify runoff, by order of magnitude, both above and below the ground (McIntyre, 2013). This is known as ‘breaking the pathway’.

Due to limitations of research at scale, the degree of water quality improvement through riparian vegetation remains to be clarified at a catchment level (Dosskey, 2010). However, when we consider the multi-factor benefits of application, large scale implementation should be considered for At-Risk rivers without delay.

A multi-species riparian buffer system can play an important role in connecting terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, especially in the Irish context, where our woodlands are small and isolated. This strip facilitates migration and increases functional biodiversity (Schultz, 1995).

Over 70% of Irish agriculture is livestock which often drink from adjacent rivers: as can be seen in the image above. Their hooves break up the soil and accelerate erosion, which has the cumulative effect of carrying pollutants into watercourses, this is known as poaching, and causes nutrient enrichment (eutrophication). 

Nutrients which were intended to support terrestrial plant life are now used by aquatic plants which require oxygen to grow. The nitrogen and phosphorus feed an unnatural and unsustainable population boom of algae which absorb all the dissolved oxygen and suffocate other aquatic life. This also creates the conditions for rooted plants to enter the habitat, further disturbing the riverbed.

Image taken from Teagasc: Structure of Riparian Buffer Zone

Solar pumps can bring water from a watercourse to a trough which facilitates a setback while the roots of the vegetation provide additional bank stabilisation (Simon, 2002). This protects aquatic life, such as fish spawning beds, from being buried in sediment.

The buffer zone can be fenced from the main part of the field with a gate to allow occasional mob grazing, which has been proven to increase biodiversity and will allow farmers to continue to avail of their current grant schemes without penalty.

One example, amongst many nation-wide, is the Blackwater River in Meath, which flows from Ballyjamesduff, to Kells, and into the Boyne River. It is ‘at-risk’ of diffuse pollution yet there is currently no management plan to restore water quality. A riparian buffer is a viable solution that will protect this river and enhance the touristic chain value of the area.

Ballyjamesduff and the historic town of Kells would be enhanced by the natural beauty of a riparian buffer zone which would increase eco-tourism by offering anglers and walkers a spectacular, spiritually nourishing experience. A well designed riparian buffer zone will naturalise into the landscape and requires little maintenance. 

An impediment to implementation, and probably the most daunting aspect, is landowner participation. However, this could be achieved with improved policy and engagement through environmental consultants and the Local Authorities Water Programme. 

Soil health is crucial to improve resilience in Irish farming. Soil is 95% sand, silt, clay and air; the rest is Organic Matter. This is where the exchange of nutrients occurs, bringing bacteria and fungi. Fields adjacent to a riparian buffer zone will benefit from this organic matter, reducing reliance on fertiliser (Marquezi, 1999). The trees and shrubs also provide shelter for birds which offers natural pest management.

Flexibility of riparian design also means that farmers can diversify their income by producing marketable goods, such as apples. As we import 95% of our apples, this riparian crop would improve Ireland’s food security. Any land under tillage will also benefit from the wind-breaking over the trees which can protect crops from storms and can increase yields up to 16% (Smith, 2021).

Restoring adjacent wetlands, such as fen, creates an effective buffer and provides the opportunity for Paludiculture (wetland agriculture): facilitating the production of load-bearing insulation, typha boards, from cattails. As the price of insulation is currently skyrocketing, this indigenous material could reduce costs in construction; this requires rapid market chain development.

These incentives will not be sufficient for most farmers who haven’t the equipment for tillage, so a stipend for this public service must be provided. At the Gaelic Woodland Project, we believe that we must support our rural communities as their well-being and stewardship is a necessity.

Taken from Imagine if this was the Shannon.

Riparian buffer zones as Natural Flood Management features aren’t being seriously considered for our Integrated Catchment Management Plans due to a lack of large-scale empirical evidence. However, conceptual models suggest that this could be a complimentary alternative to hard infrastructure, which often has disastrous ecological consequences.

Rain falls on a catchment and flows from headwaters, into streams, rivers, lakes and into the flood plain before entering transitional waters. The volume increases incrementally as sub-catchments merge which collectively contribute to large scale flooding events in the lower-catchment. 

The riparian buffer strips increase channel complexity and hydraulic resistance to slow the flow into waterways, reducing Peak Flow (Dixon, 2018). Research suggests that as these trees age, they become important areas for water storage and sinks for storm rainfall, with their root networks facilitating lateral infiltration toward groundwater (Archer, 2015).

Each riparian buffer zone requires a site-specific design but may include holly, willow, hazel, guelder rose, alder & downy birch with hawthorn scattered throughout and pedunculate oak as the climax tree species. As this oak grows, cracks appear in the bark which allows for ferns and mosses to create a rising ecosystem, which can support over 900 species.

If we do not remedy our deteriorating water quality we create greater problems in the years to come. As farming is a family business, those working the land have seen rivers change throughout their lifetime. Perhaps there is even a sadness to see their parents’ farm lost to the Common Agricultural Policy.

We eagerly await a new forestry policy in June 2022, where we hope that riparian forestry will replace peatland plantations. Research published in Kerry last year showed that the carbon emitted from degrading peat can emit more carbon than the trees sequester (Sancho, 2021). This requires a drastic change in policy as 40% of Irish forestry is on peatland.

Mistakes have been made but now we know our approach to land management isn’t adequate. We must harness the synergies and work with nature. This requires courage from the Department and pressure from an informed public. Failing to make this necessary shift is a disservice to posterity.

The Gaelic Woodland submitted this suggestion during consultations for the CAP in November 2021. Please share this article.


  1. The role of riparian vegetation in protecting and improving chemical water quality in streams Dosskey, M.G., Vidon, P., Gurwick, N.P., Allan, C.J., Duval, T.P. & Lowrance, R. 2010. Journal of the American Water Resources Association 46(2):261-277.

2. Land use management effects on flood flows and sediments – guidance on prediction McIntyre, N. & Thorne, C. (Eds.). 2013. CIRIA Report C719. CIRIA, London.

3. Design and placement of a multi-species riparian buffer strip system Schultz, R.C., Collettil, J.P., Isenhart, T.M., Simpkins, W.W., Mize, C.W. & Thompson, M.L. 1995. Agroforestry Systems 29(3):201-226.

4. Quantifying the mechanical and hydrologic effects of riparian vegetation on streambank stability Simon, A. & Collison, A.J.C. 2002. Earth Surface Processes & Landforms 27:527-546.

5. Windbreaks in the United States: A systematic review of producer-reported benefits, challenges, management activities and drivers of adoption. Agricultural Systems. Volume 187. February 2021. Matthew M.Smith, Gary Bentrup, Todd Kellerman, Katherine MacFarland, Richard Straight, Lord Ameyaw.

6. Assessing soil quality in a riparian buffer by testing organic matter fractions in central Iowa, USA (1999) C. O. Marquezi, *, C. A. CAMBARDELLA2 , T. M. ISENHART1 and R. C. SCHULTZ1 1 Department of Forestry, 251 Bessey Hall, Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50011, USA.

7. A conceptual model of riparian forest restoration for natural flood management (October 2018). Water and Environment Journal Vol:33(1-2). Anthropocene Landscapes and Processes Group. Simon J. Dixon, David A Sear, Keith H Nislow

8. Rainfall infiltration and soil hydrological characteristics below ancient forest, planted forest and grassland in a temperate northern climate (2015)Nicole A. L. Archer, Wilfred Otten, Sonja Schmidt,A. Glyn Bengough, Nadeem Shah, Mike Bonell. Ecohydrology.

9. Soil carbon balance of afforested peatlands in the maritime temperate climatic zone (May 2021) Global Change Biology: vol: 27(1) Antonio Jonay Jovani Sancho, Thomas Cummins, Kenneth A Byrne

Foundation Records at Clonony Castle

Culture is the cumulation of our intellectual and creative Tradition. It isn’t an inert, distant display; it is dynamic and we play an active role in its creation.

We invited Foundations Records, a young Dublin music collective, to live stream from within the 15th-century Castle in County Offaly. We wanted to open doors (or gates) and allow the people of Ireland to engage with their history and bring new energy to old stone.

We are very grateful to the caretaker of Clonony Castle, Rebecca Armstrong, for her trust and daring.

Glendalough Fundraising Hike

The Hike

We meet at 9:00am at the Glendalough Green Cafe for a coffee and meet the rest of the hiking group.

At 9:45 we all headed on to park in the Glendalough visitor centre. The walk was a 12km loop and there was toilets at the start/finish point. From there a short 15mins drive to the beautiful Glenmalure valley to a mobile sauna and the brave went for a dip in the river!

We had the sauna organised for 2pm for an hour and then onto the Glenmalure Lodge for a well earned pint and some grub!


Glendalough is home to one of the most important monastic sites in Ireland. This monastic settlement was founded by St. Kevin in the 6th century and from this developed the “Monastic City”. Most of the buildings that survive today date from the 10th through 12th centuries. Despite attacks by Vikings over the years, Glendalough thrived as one of Ireland’s great ecclesiastical foundations and schools of learning until the Normans destroyed the monastery in 1214 A.D. and the dioceses of Glendalough and Dublin were united.  Source – Visit Wicklow 

Thank you to everyone who came out and joined us! Check out our video:

Just Words – Fundraiser

From ticket sales, Gaelic Woodland Project Trust signups, Raffle tickets, key-rings sales and donations. Thank you to the moon and back to all who supported us on this night!

We teamed up with the incredible ‘Just Words’ for a night of poetry, storytelling, music, short Irish films and much more!

Just Words: Gaelic Woodland Project Fundraising on 13th September 2019 @ 7pm at the MART Gallery. 

An evening brought the chance to connect with people, to find out more about native Irish Woodlands and how we can contribute to restoring native Irish flora and fauna. An evening that raised funds to help replant native Irish woodlands and build a like minded community celebrating Irish culture and performance.

The Event

There was complimentary wine, poetry, stories, short films, stalls provided by Gaelic Woodland Project, tarot card readings, music and a raffle with great prizes!

We Raised a Total of €926! Thank you so much to everyone who contributed 🙂


Some of the greatest authors of Irish poetry scene performed and read their poetry on the night:

  • Phillip Lynch
  • Niamh Hannaford
  • Bernard O’Rourke
  • Rachel Quinlan
  • Lisamarie Johnson
  • David Grant
  • Adriana Ribeiro
  • Jasmina Susic