Shrinking Spruce: Decline in Sitka Tree Plantations Raises Concerns

"Sitka Spruce Plantations in Ireland Experience Lowest Area Planted in Seven Years, Reports Department of Agriculture"

Sitka Spruce Afforestation in Ireland Sees Decline in 2023

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) has reported that the total area of Sitka spruce planted in Ireland in 2023 was the lowest in a gradual year-on-year decline that began seven years ago. According to the figures provided by the DAFM, Sitka spruce accounted for just 38% of the total area of forestry planted last year.

This decline has prompted Co. Waterford Independent TD Deputy Matt Shanahan to raise concerns. He asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue, to provide the figures of the net area of Sitka spruce afforestation in Ireland each year from 2010 to 2023.

In response, Minister McConalogue acknowledged the previous decrease in overall afforestation levels, including that of Sitka spruce. He reassured that his department is addressing the issue and has resolved licensing problems that were previously impacting planting levels. He also highlighted the diverse forestry program in place, which offers farmers and landowners an attractive and viable land use option. Non-farmers can benefit from 15-year premiums, while farmers can receive 20-year premiums.

The table provided by the DAFM shows the area of Sitka spruce planted each year from 2010 to 2023. The figures reveal that Sitka spruce accounted for 39% of the total area planted in 2010, reaching a peak of 70% in 2017. However, in 2023, it accounted for only 38% of the total area planted.

The decline in Sitka spruce afforestation is part of a larger trend. The total area of forestry planted in Ireland has been gradually decreasing since 2016, when 6,500 hectares were planted. In 2023, this number decreased to just 1,651 hectares.

While Sitka spruce afforestation has seen a decline, the forestry sales market has reached an all-time high. Tradeforus Forestry Ltd. has reported year-on-year increases between 15% and 25%. The average prices for bare land range from €7,000 to €8,500 per acre, depending on factors such as location, access, land quality, and plot size. Premium plots of Sitka spruce, depending on their age, are being sold for up to €10,000 per acre, while smaller plots or those with poorer site values can be purchased for as low as €3,500 to €5,000 per acre.

Lorraine Woulfe, the office and auction manager at Tradeforus Forestry Ltd., has noted a significant interest in forestry investment. Institutional forestry investment funds, semi-state companies, and farmers are among the main buyers. Woulfe also mentioned that there has been a recent increase in people interested in buying broadleaf plantations, alongside the traditional interest in commercial conifer plantations.

As of now, nearly 23,000 landowners own forestry in Ireland, according to Woulfe. Despite the decline in Sitka spruce afforestation, the forestry industry continues to attract attention and investment, indicating a positive outlook for the sector in the years to come.

Matt Lyons

Matt Lyons

Matt Lyons is the founder of Forestry & Carbon. Matt has over 25 years as a forestry consultant and is invoilved in numerous carbon credit offset projects.

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