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.

The Dangers of an Invasive Species (and what are we doing about it)

The objective of the Gaelic Woodland Project is to crowd-fund to purchase fields and convert them into native woodlands; all donations are used to buy land. We call this simple approach “People-Powered Reforestation”. In 2023 we will buy land for our first forest. However, in 2022 our actions evolved into something more akin to “People-Power Against Ecological Invasion”

The vibrant biodiversity of a mature Irish forest is extremely rare and may be impossible to recreate. It’s short-sighted to plant new woodlands without tackling the invasive species decimating the mature woodlands we already have.

In Elizabethian times, Cherry Laurel was introduced to Ireland from Turkey as an ornamental plant for Aristocratic landscape gardening. The laurel branches will grow lazily upwards to ~8 metres in isolation. Planted in rows, they weave an impenetrable barrier of evergreen leaves that make exceptional hedging which is still popular today. 

Cherry Laurel Infestation map: National Biodiversity Data Centre

Yet, this seemingly innocuous plant is the greatest threat to our mature forests. Their seeds love rich woodland soil, and their waxy, evergreen leaves block the light and eradicate the irreplaceable biodiversity beneath them. In its ruthless pulse to survive – even a little branch left on the forest floor can regrow and take on roots.

Currently, Laurel is sold in Garden Shops all around the country without warning. It grows silently in most Irish forests, displacing native species and casting a grim shadow all over its path. Once you see this problem, you can’t un-see it, and you will see it everywhere.

What can be done!?

Most gardeners who plant Cherry Laurel don’t know the damage these seeds inflict on nearby and faraway biomes, so awareness is an excellent place to start!

Direct action is vital, but isolated State-sponsored removal efforts are insufficient due to the pervasiveness of the infestation. The Irish State will sink millions into palliative upkeep ad infinitum unless we become as committed to its removal as she is to her survival.

So we decided to join the fight to save Irish Woodlands whilst we fundraise to create a new forest. Win-Win.

Impenetrable wall of Cherry Laurel in the woods of Killyon Manor, Co. Meath

Burn, baby, burn!

To incentivise removal, Cherry Laurel must become a resource. As it turns out, Laurel burns exceptionally well. Because it is considered a shrub (not a tree), no felling licence is required to cut them down. 

With this instrumental insight, we decided to experiment: Could we develop an efficient, affordable methodology for removing Cherry Laurel that simultaneously provides communities with FREE firewood?

SPOILER: Yes, yes we could.

With the support and help of Killyon Manor and funding from LAWpro, we held a series of meitheals (the Irish word for collaborative community work) in an infested native woodland on the banks of the River Deel.

We purchased task-specific, non-mechanised tools (Samurai Saws & Nordic Chainsaws) to aid with the removal and found that even with a small group of 5 volunteers, a significant amount of Cherry Laurel could be felled down in a matter of hours; the sunlight once again pouring into the forest floor.

And the building of community was only one of the many happy byproducts of this effort!

There was a surge of interest with each meitheal; we closed off the season with 30 legendary people showing up to offer a few hours and energy to this significant work.

Founder Eoghan Connaughton inducting 30 volunteers for our biggest meitheal yet.

We piled the small branches and leaves in big piles to rot for posterior removal and composting. However, we also plan to create habitat for small mammals and birds and to experiment with growing edible mushrooms on the refuse.

The energy crisis is walloping households. This invasive shrub presents a salubrious alternative to firewood imports. The bigger branches and trunks were cut into logs and stored in white-ton bags to be dried over Winter. We have collected 20-tonnes of Laurel Logs by hand and will be donating them next year to raise funds for our new forest.

Six of 28 tonne bags collected from a woodland in Meath.

Laurel stumps require treatment, or they will regrow; herbicide (glyphosate) is currently the best practice. This crude, toxic approach is the finality of all life it touches; it has an undetermined impact on soil health and is lethal if it enters waterways. 

The GWP founder Eoghan Connaughton has obtained permission from Trinity College Dublin to experiment with specific fungal strains as bioherbicides. There are over 200 million fungal strains; we’ve discovered five (and one bacteria) that work symbiotically with laurel (Prunus laurocerasus).

We await permission from the NPWS and the DAFM to determine if fungal treatment can neutralise laurel’s regrowth capacity without using herbicides or toxic substances.

What happens in the long-run?

The results of our removal experiments have been highly satisfying; not only are we finding that the clearing a woodland can be easy enough, but it is also gratifying work and a great place to find community.

Our vision is long-term and communal: Once we’ve learned enough and our methodology is solid, we will prepare guidance material and an awareness campaign for different communities around Ireland (parishes, GAA clubs, nature groups, schools and universities, etc.) to empower themselves by tackling their own Cherry Laurel infestations: knowing what results to expect after using what tools and man-hours.

We will also make our fungal bioherbicide experiment open-source.

The only way to protect Irish forests and guarantee posterity have great Irish Oaks to sit beneath is to come together and innovate for an intelligent, cleaner approach to preserving the precious remnants of our mature woodlands.

After cutting, the leaves and refuse are piled together in different piles to observe rates of decomposition, while the wood is saved for logging, drying and then burning.

If you’d like to join us, subscribe to our newsletter for an early invite or watch our Instagram for future meitheal outings. If you’ve abundance, consider making a small donation and sign our appeal to prohibit the sale of invasive species. Extra points if you share this post to help us reach more people. Thank you for your support <3

Written by Santiago Rial Luis (Séamus) and Eoghan Connaughton

Light returning to the forest floor after 30-years in shadow.

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”

Ecological Crisis to Energy Opportunity: Policy Proposal

For the attention of:

Oireachtas Joint Committee on Public Petitions

Topic: Integrated Invasive Species Policy Proposal

Result: Innovative approach to invasive species management which prohibits the sale of invasive species, prioritises their removal at the community level, and utilises their biomass as a solid fuel.

Continue reading “Ecological Crisis to Energy Opportunity: Policy Proposal”

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 Environmentbuddie.com: 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.

References:

  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

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 🙂

Poets

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