16 March, 2017


Dear Minister Humphreys,


We refer to the felling of oak trees at Castleforbes, Co. Longford, without any consent and your response to Parliamentary Question 41091/16 on January 17th  2017 in regard to this matter.


While you state ‘There is excellent co-operation between my Department and the Gardaí in these matters’ we are concerned that your Department became aware of the alleged commission of an offence at Castleforbes in 2015 and did not pass the information to the relevant authorities responsible for enforcing the terms of the licence and prosecuting the offender.


Your failure to provide the information contained in a Report from the Parks and Wildlife Service on foot of a question by Deputy Bannon in December 2015 demonstrates that no such cooperation existed in this case with the result that the time period in which an offence may be prosecuted expired. It was only after many months of questions under Access for Information on the Environment and Parliamentary Questions by Deputy Daly that the offence has been confirmed.


We consider that it is part of your and your Department's duties to facilitate the enforcement of relevant legal provisions protecting our natural heritage and that when you become aware of the alleged commission of an offence this duty includes notifying any relevant enforcement authorities.


We would be grateful if you could clarify:

  • Do you agree that it is part of your and your Department's duties to pass on information like this to enforcement authorities?
  • Do you have a policy in this regard?
  • Why was the necessary information not given to (Garda? Forest Service?) in this instance?
  • What policies and procedures have been or will be put in place to ensure that your Department notifies other authorities in relation to the alleged offence and supplies whatever information it holds to them?


We look forward to your response in relation to this matter.


Yours, etc.,



Tony Lowes


The public have been recruited in the battle to save Northern Ireland’s oldest trees. Just 0.08% of Northern Ireland’s land mass is covered by ancient woodland. And since the 1960s, 273 of Northern Ireland’s ancient woodland have been cleared for agriculture and development. Now the Woodland Trust is calling on people to use the planning system to fight back when ancient woodland in their area comes under threat, using a new online tool called WoodWatch.


Patrick Cregg of the Woodland Trust said: "This is a worrying picture. Research shows that Northern Ireland's oldest woods are small, fragmented and disappearing fast. They are places of great beauty and tranquillity, home to many rare and vulnerable wildlife species. Once lost, they're gone for good and yet we continue to bury them under tonnes of concrete. "If these woods were buildings they would be protected to the highest grading. But natural heritage is not afforded the same importance, despite the fact that many ancient woodland sites date back far beyond that of the built environment. We need eyes and ears to help stop ancient woodland destruction on our doorsteps. That's why the Woodland Trust has launched WoodWatch to provide tools and information for people to find and save threatened woodland in their local areas."

Anyone who wants to get involved in the campaign can find help to navigate the planning system and run a successful campaign at [link no longer live at 06 Feb 16- it is worth visiting the Woodland Trust instead ]

Through the interactive map, people can locate and update the Woodland Trust on threats to ancient woodland in their area and funding will become available from next year.

© Belfast Telegraph

Coillte has begun a massive tree–felling operation in a bid to prevent the spread of a fungal disease through a scenic forest park.

Lumberjacks are working in Gougane Barra park, near Ballingeary in West Cork, to cut down the first of an estimated 16,000 diseased trees, mostly Japanese larch, which have been affected by the so–called Sudden Oak Death, caused by an organism called phytophthora ramorum.

Coillte is using large, mechanical tree–cutters, and a special high–wire cable system in more environmentally sensitive sites to remove between 25% and 30% of the park’s trees across some 20 hectares.

The felling operation has forced the closure of the park for up to six months.

Tourists and hikers will not have access to 5km of motor trail, 10km of hill walks, vista points, and nature trails during the work.

However, access to the lakeside church, one of the country’s most popular wedding venues, and to the remains ofSt Finbarr’s monastery, will be maintained.

Timber from the infected larch can still be used. The felled logs will be taken, under licence, to authorised sawmills in the region, where a range of agreed biosecurity precautions have been introduced.

Coillte forestry productivity manager Padraig Ó Tuama, who is overseeing the operation, said the timber will have to be stored separately, and its bark and sawdust will be burned on site.

Once the felling is complete, the park will be replanted with a range of different tree species, including Scots pine and oak.

Mr Ó Tuama said if Coillte did not act now, the larch would succumb to the disease in a few years, and act as a source for further infection.

Pure Japanese larch make up less than 2% of the Coillte forest estate.

Gougane Barra, where the River Lee rises, is one of 20 Coillte sites where this fungal disease has been identified.

Coillte has already felled 150 hectares of forest around the country in an effort to contain and prevent the spread of the disease. It is awaiting test results on a further 29 sites.

The disease can be spread over several miles in mists, air currents, watercourses, and rainsplash. It may also be spread on footwear, dogs’ paws, bicycle wheels, tools, and equipment. Movement of infected plants is also a key means of spreading it over long distances.

Certain varieties of larch, oak, beech, and chestnut are the most susceptible to the disease.

Ireland is only the second country where the disease has been found in Japanese larch.

The disease was first found here about eight years ago in wild rhododendron, but was discovered in Japanese larch in the Galtee mountains in the Cahir area in 2010.

Up until then, it was regarded as a disease of broadleaf trees, linked to the presence of wild rhododendron shrubs.

However, the Department of Agriculture said it has concerns that when present in Japanese larch, the phytophthora ramorum organism produces spores at a much faster rate than is known to occur on rhododendron, and could act as a very significant source for further spread of the disease.

Under threat

Up to 250 hectares of trees could face the axe if tests confirm the presence of so–called Sudden Oak Death disease.

Coillte confirmed yesterday that 20 forestry sites across 100 hectares have been earmarked for felling following confirmation of the fungal infection.

Coillte’s Padraig Ó Tuama said they are awaiting test results from a further 29 suspect sites across 150 hectares where felling may also be required.

Coillte has been working with the Irish Forestry Service since 2010 to conduct aerial and ground surveys to monitor the spread of the disease, which is caused by an organism called phytophthora ramorum.

The 2010 surveys revealed 17 infected forestry sites across 154 hectares which were felled.

Coillte said subsequent surveys have revealed a rapid expansion of the disease, with the most recent surveys identifying a total of 54 suspect sites, five of which subsequently tested negative.

Gougane Barra is among 20 confirmed diseased sites. The other large infected sites are in West Cork, south Tipperary, south Kilkenny, and Wicklow.
Thursday, January 23, 2014
By Eoin English
Irish Examiner Reporter
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved


DEADLY ash dieback disease has spread to nearly every county in the country, sparking a warning it is now unstoppable.

The tree disease has been found in 120 locations nationwide and resulted in the felling of 1,300 acres of forest.

Efforts to contain it could also lead to higher price for hurleys as stringent restrictions on ash wood imports have resulted in prices for ash wood going up by 20pc, experts said.

And while hurley makers have absorbed the price rises so far, if the disease continues to force up the price of ash wood, the hike will eventually have to be passed on to consumers, said hurley maker Tony McAuliffe.

"Hurley makers have absorbed it so far, but if the price goes much higher, they will have to pass it on," he said.

Despite concerted official attempts to eradicate ash dieback, the number of cases has doubled in the last year and it has now been found in every county except Roscommon, Westmeath, Louth and Laois, figures obtained from the Department of Agriculture show.

The Native Woodland Trust warned that the disease has spread so widely for so long that it is now "unstoppable".


Its chairman Jim Lawlor said that because the first case of it discovered 18 months ago had been in ash plants imported three years earlier, the disease had a long time to spread before its discovery prompted action to try and eradicate it.

Ash dieback disease spread very rapidly and could infect trees within a 25-mile radius every year, which meant 120 cases could quickly cover the entire country, he said.

"The only hope for Irish ash trees is that some native varieties will have sufficient genetic resistance that they won't succumb to it," he said.

But Teagasc forestry expert Michael Somers said that the one hopeful sign was that nearly all cases of ash dieback, also known as chalara, have been in young trees rather than more established ones.

Official restrictions on ash imports related to the disease had led to prices for ash wood rising from around €9.50 or €10 per plank to €12, which could end up costing consumers, he said.

Ash has a very strong cultural place in Irish society as the wood for hurleys.

"This disease does highlight the need for a scientific approach to tree breeding and genetics to make sure we're planting the right varieties into the future," he said.

The Department of Agriculture said that emergency measures to curb the spread of disease and prevent imports of infected ash wood remained in place.

Some 540 hectares of forest land has been cleared of trees to prevent the spread of the disease.

"This figure includes areas cleared on a preventative basis where trees were found to be from the same batch as infected trees," it said.

There have been 47 confirmed cases in ash plantations, 17 in horticultural nurseries, and 46 in farm and roadside planting, with others in hedgerows, garden centres and private gardens.

Meanwhile, another tree-killer, Japanese Larch disease, has now been detected in 30 locations.

Gougane Barra forest park in Co Cork has been laid waste by the disease, as a major outbreak there has led to 16,000 trees being felled with the park to remain closed until summer.

Irish Independent Aideen Sheehan 14 April 2014 02:55 AM

Britain should turn swathes of its upland pastures into woodland to help prevent flooding, according to a former environment minister, Lord Rooker. He said new forests would slow flooding by trapping water with their roots. The idea of “rewilding” the uplands is catching on fast as parts of Britain face repeated flooding, with more rainfall on the way. Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said he would seriously consider innovative solutions like rewilding. The government has been criticised for being slow to capitalise on the benefits of capturing rain where it falls.

Lord Rooker, a Labour peer, said too much emphasis had been attached to the look of the countryside rather than practical considerations like trapping water.  “We pay the farmers to grub up the trees and hedges; we pay them to plant the hills with pretty grass and sheep to maintain the chocolate box image, and then wonder why we’ve got floods,” he said.

The idea of reintroducing forests into catchments has been strongly supported by several leading scientists. The government is sponsoring a handful of catchment trials to assess the potential of the upstream areas to catch water and send it slowly downhill.

A research paper for the Environment Agency shows that some of the schemes, like partly damming streams with felled trees to cause local flooding, are highly unpredictable when employed on their own. If they divert rainfall on to surrounding fields that can actually make flooding downstream worse if the water then flows off the fields, bypassing bends in the river.

But the study, which is not yet peer–reviewed, suggests that reintroducing flood forests to upland areas can be highly effective – and potentially much cheaper than conventional flood defences. The author, Simon Dixon, said: “Complex forested floodplains dramatically slow water moving over them as they have an irregular surface covered by tree roots, upright tree trunks and dead wood.” He explains the process this way: “As a simple analogy during a flood many ‘packets’ of water are delivered to the main trunk river from all its tributaries. “If the delivery of a single large ‘packet’ of water can be significantly delayed it will then arrive at the main river after the peak of the flood, and thus the main flood peak height has less ‘packets’ of water in it and is lower.”

The best results come, he says, when rivers are partly dammed and a forest is allowed to grow on the floodplain. “This shows substantial and predictable responses in downstream flood height,” he said.  The best results come, he says, when rivers are partly dammed and a forest is allowed to grow on the floodplain. “This shows substantial and predictable responses in downstream flood height,” he said.

This is exactly what would have happened if farmers had not been encouraged by government to maximise food production by felling forests to graze sheep on the uplands.

Lord Rooker got the idea of reintroducing forests from an article by the green journalist George Monbiot, who complained that farmers are subsidised to keep sheep even though the grazing animals actually make flooding worse by compacting the earth. “Instead of a steady flow sustained around the year by trees in the hills, by sensitive farming methods, by rivers which are allowed to find their own course and their own level, to filter and hold back their waters through bends and braiding and obstructions, we get a cycle of flood and drought. We get filthy water and empty aquifers and huge insurance premiums and ruined carpets. And all of it at public expense,” Mr Monbiot wrote earlier this month.

The idea of catching water upstream is strongly supported by the water and environment professional body, the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM). Its spokesman Katherine Pygott has previously told BBC News: “Flooding is getting worse with changing weather patterns, but these schemes are taking a very long time and a lot of energy. Projects working with nature to reduce flood risk are needed right across the country – but it is complicated, with many different organisations involved, and it will need political leadership from the highest level to make it happen. So far we haven’t seen that leadership.”

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson told me he would give serious consideration to innovative solutions to flooding, like rewilding. The government could theoretically encourage farmers to rewild key parts of their catchments using grants under the Common Agricultural Policy, but CIWEM say that at the moment it is much easier for farmers to get grants for wildlife protection than flood protection.

Mr Paterson had hoped to divert more cash into a fund that could be used for these sort of measures but was overruled by the prime minister after a campaign by farmers demanding to keep the maximum amount of their grants into direct payments for farming – in effect, for owning land.

Follow Roger on Twitter @rharrabin

(c) BBC