Good practice general information

Title of the practice

Dublin Mountains Makeover (DMM)

Organisation in charge of the good practice

Coillte (meaning “forests” in Irish) is a commercial forestry business owned by the Irish state, managing 7% of Ireland’s land[1]. The Dublin Mountains Makeover is an initiative of Coillte Nature, the not-for-profit branch of Coillte that is dedicated to the restoration, regeneration and rehabilitation of nature across Ireland. Coillte forests are open for public access with an estimated 18 million visitors annually. 20% of the Coillte estate is currently managed for biodiversity[2] (managed for the protection of wild species and habitats).

Description

Short summary of the practice

The Dublin Mountains Makeover (DMM) involves the implementation of a multi-generational forest management model across an area of over 900 hectares of forest at the southern edge of Dublin City. The practice is being implemented across nine Coillte forests in the Dublin Mountains. The DMM involves a transition away from a traditional clearfell and replanting cycle, with ‘Continuous Cover Forestry’ (CCF) principles[3] being applied to maintain the green canopy on a permanent basis. In areas where the CCF technique is not suitable, non-native Sitka spruce and lodgepole pine trees are being removed and replanted with native species such as Scots pine, birch, rowan, oak, holly and willow to provide habitat for nature. The adoption of this model improves biodiversity, enhances the recreation appeal and, as such, horizontally integrates ecosystem services considerations into the forest management practices of a commercial entity. Over the last ten years, the “Dublin Mountains Partnership” – which is a partnership between Coillte and wide-ranging stakeholders – has been managing and improving recreation facilities in the Dublin Mountains. The Dublin Mountains Makeover is an initiative born of this partnership with the improvement of forest resources for nature and people at its core.

Category of the good practice

Enabling environment

Resources needed

Coillte Group turnover in 2019 was €327.4 million with an operating profit of €63.3 million2. The DMM is a project of Coillte Nature, the not-for-profit branch of Coillte which was launched in June 2019. A new diverse team of four people (with internal and external expertise) was appointed to Coillte Nature in October 2019. This includes a director, a specialist in environmental communications & partnerships, an ecologist and a forestry operations expert (professional forester). In January 2020, work commenced on four key projects, including the DMM. Coillte intends to continue growing Coillte Nature into a successful not-for-profit business and is investigating a range of external funding sources to help scale up activity in the near term2 (see www.coillte.ie/introducing-the-nature-trust/ for example).

Timescale (start/end date)

January 2020 – long term (possibly decades)

Strategic relevance (long term impact)

The European Green Deal aims to transform the EU from a high- to a low-carbon economy, while improving people’s quality of life and the environment, without reducing prosperity. Within the Green Deal it is recognised that forest ecosystems are under increasing pressure as a result of climate change. It states that the EU’s forested area needs to improve, both in quality and quantity, for the EU to reach climate neutrality and to secure a healthy environment. A new EU forest strategy is to be prepared by the EU Commission covering the whole forest cycle and promoting many services that forests provide, with respect for ecological principles favourable to biodiversity. Furthermore, the Green Deal states that national strategic plans under the Common Agricultural Policy should incentivise forest managers to preserve, grow and manage forests sustainably. In Ireland, this is the CAP Strategic Plan post 2020 which is currently being prepared by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

The EU Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) Directive (2001/42/EU) approaches environmental concerns from a broad strategic perspective, necessitating sectoral, regional or national planning to include a wider consideration of environmental impacts. This includes consideration of the sustainable development of the forestry sector.

According to the Europe-wide Eurobarometer Survey (2019), climate change and biodiversity loss are some of the most important issues for European citizens. For the youth of Europe, the clear-felling of forests is something they don’t want to see at all. As such, the ethical and symbolic dimension is clearly as important as the economic aspect.

Public policy and public opinion across Europe now clearly recognise the potential environmental and socio-cultural benefits associated with sustainable forest management (SFM) practices. In Ireland, forest policy is improving in this regard, with more requirements on type and location of planting, including a requirement that 15% of the planted area should comprise native broadleaf species1. Initiatives such as the DMM demonstrate that the commercial sector is beginning to recognise and adapt to new knowledge and new values.

Coillte currently owns 54% of the national forest estate in Ireland[4] with forestry accounting for 11% (770,000ha) of the total land area of the state. The national forest estate contains a high proportion (68%) of commercial plantation, much of which (85%) is comprised of single-age, non-native conifer species, of which 51% is fast-growing Sitka spruce4 (Picea Sitchensis) which has a low biodiversity value. The strategic aim of the DMM is to improve biodiversity, climate resilience and recreation by regenerating urban forests. The ongoing transition to the multi-generational forest management model at the heart of the DMM is a slow and careful process, conducted in a manner that minimises disruption to local residents and visitors, while locking in benefits for nature and recreation that will be enjoyed by generations to come.

Evidence of success (results achieved)

 

A key aspect of the DMM is that project activities are continually documented on the dedicated webpage:

 https://www.coillte.ie/coillte-nature/ourprojects/dublinmountainsmakeover/.

This webpage includes news articles, blogs and videos. So far, this approach has allowed stakeholders to keep track of upcoming and completed project actions, while being informed about various SFM methods being used and challenges identified. This approach helps to record measurable outputs, while engaging stakeholders, thereby, contributing to the long-term success of the DMM.

Tangibility

Tangible outcomes of the DMM are carefully documented as implementation continues. By example, works to be carried out in 2020 were divided into three phases, each of which is described in detail in terms of action, location and extent. The implementation of these phases has been documented on the project website, allowing accurate measurement of results. For example, Phase 1 was described as the planting of 14 hectares of “Continuous Cover Forestry” (CCF) and 6 hectares of “Remove & Replant with a mix of native and non-natives” (R&R-mix) in Ballyedmonduff, and 3 hectares of Remove & Replant (R&R) in Ticknock. News items on the project webpage have documented the progress of this phase as follows:

●        26/06/2020 – Ballyedmonduff CCF – https://www.coillte.ie/work-begins-on-the-dublin-mountains-makeover/

●        10/07/2020 – Ticknock R&R – https://www.coillte.ie/visitng-ticknock-look-out-for-our-first-rr-site-as-part-of-the-dublin-mountains-makeover/

●        14/08/2020 – Ballyedmonduff R&R-mix – https://www.coillte.ie/the-dublin-mountains-makeover-continues-in-ballyedmonduff/

Furthermore, long-term biodiversity monitoring plots will be installed across each habitat and forest type from 2021 to monitor changes over time.

Durability

In the Dublin mountains, Coillte owns and manages around 50% of the forested area. The remaining area is owned and managed by private forest owners. When the Coillte forests were first planted between the early 1940s and late 1960s, limited environmental criteria were applied. Thus, these areas were deemed to be of limited biodiversity value1 and the main objective of the tree planting was to provide timber. Back then, Dublin was a much smaller city more remote to the Dublin Mountains, and nobody thought much about outdoor recreation activities in forests. 

Growing recognition of the biodiversity value of these locations – in addition to changes in grant support structures – has encouraged the set-aside of a proportion of planted areas to biodiversity or open space and native broadleaf planting1. Regulations to protect waterways, differential thinning techniques and dedicated grant premium categories for higher biodiversity value species have been introduced1. Specific initiatives include the Felling and Reforestation Policy (2017) and the Forest Service’s Native Woodland Scheme (2015).

Through the DMM, Coillte have designated forest areas for biodiversity and are also supporting forest enhancement by means of corporate offsetting ventures through Natural Capital Partners and Microsoft. Furthermore, the private company ‘Green Belt’ has provided supplementary capacity1.

The nine forests included in the DMM are among the most important recreational sites for a growing urban population seeking fresh air and green space. They are the most frequently visited forests in Ireland, with the DMM very much framed by the amenity and recreation value of the selected forests.

As such, the DMM presents itself as a durable model for the following key reasons:

  1. Coillte – as a state-owned entity – owns a large proportion of the forested area of the Dublin Mountains.
  2. Prevailing policy developments now favour biodiversity restoration and enhancement.
  3. The DMM provides recreational and amenity benefits for the proximate urban population of Dublin City with an established relationship with recreation users through the Dublin Mountains Partnership.

Visibility

Coillte Nature has a stated commitment to minimise impacts on local residents and to engage with all of their stakeholders to ensure that everyone knows what they’re doing, how, where, when and why. They do this by:

●        Making regular updates on the Coillte Nature webpage: www.coillte.ie/coillte-nature/

●        Posting key dates and locations on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

●        Engaging with local and national media (newspapers, radio and TV)

●        Putting up signs on-site to show what they’re doing, where, when, why and how

●        Holding information days, walks, talks and other events (to commence as soon as COVID-19 restrictions allow)

●        Circulating information leaflets (An informational leaflet was sent to 13,200 homes across South Dublin at the commencement of the DMM)

In line with these commitments:

●        The DMM is currently showcased on the Coillte website: https://www.coillte.ie/, as well as having its own dedicated webpage: https://www.coillte.ie/coillte-nature/ourprojects/dublinmountainsmakeover/

●        Coillte has: 7,695 followers on Twitter; 14,371 followers on Facebook; 2,762 followers on Instagram (Information correct as of 21/09/2020) with regular updates relating to the DMM posted on each.

 

The DMM communications campaign reached an audience of 2.5 million people during its launch week of May 25th 2020. This resulted in substantial local and national media attention. For example:

●        Articles in The Irish Times national newspaper: 27th June 2020: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/science/the-ultimate-restoration-project-rescuing-ecosystems-for-a-diversity-of-users-1.4330225 and 27th August 2020: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/science/the-ultimate-restoration-project-rescuing-ecosystems-for-a-diversity-of-users-1.4330225

●        Coverage by RTÉ, Ireland’s national broadcaster (9th July 2020): https://www.rte.ie/brainstorm/2020/0706/1151597-dublin-mountains-forests-makeover-climate-change-health/

●        Coverage in the local media: e.g. https://www.dublinlive.ie/news/dublin-news/work-begin-plans-transform-nine-18306743 (25th May 2020) and https://www.echo.ie/tallaght/article/dublin-mountains-undergoing-a-massive-makeover (25th June 2020)

●        Coverage by local and national interest groups:

https://wicklowuplands.ie/dublin-mountains-makeover-to-commence-this-summer/

https://www.dublinmountains.ie/news/latest_news/?no_cache=1

https://www.treecouncil.ie/post/dublin-mountains-makeover

 

Social media also drove significant public engagement with the DMM project. For example:

●        Over the 4-day launch period, the campaign reached 227,394 people

●        11,273 people engaged with (liked, clicked, commented, shared) Coillte’s posts across the four channels

●        Positive comments overwhelmingly outweighed isolated negative comments

●        Coillte Nature reports that engagement rates were exceptionally high compared to industry standards

Information boards are set up at each of the forests where work has commenced. For example, here is a link to the signage which was erected at the commencement of CCF work at Ballyedmonduff: https://www.coillte.ie/media/2020/07/DMM-Ballyedmonduff-signage-FINAL-PRINT-v2.pdf

Added Value:

In addition to achieving strategic objectives of reforesting landscapes, restoring biodiversity, regenerating urban forests, and rehabilitating ecosystem services, the DMM provides an important recreational function. The target forests are among the most important recreational sites for Dublin’s growing urban population seeking fresh air and green space: Ticknock, Coillte’s most popular forest, sees over 550 visits a day. The DMM is designed to be a slow and careful process, conducted in a way that minimises disruption to local residents and visitors, while locking in benefits for nature, recreation and the landscape of the Dublin Mountains that will be enjoyed by generations to come.

Effectiveness

The effectiveness of the DMM is underscored by the involvement of wide-ranging stakeholders in the development of the DMM as the vision for the Coillte estates in the Dublin mountains.

For many years, there have been calls by multiple stakeholders to improve biodiversity and amenity access in these publicly-owned forests. These include 1) the Dublin Mountain Initiative (DMI) representing recreational users of the Dublin Mountains including Mountaineering Ireland, Cycling Ireland, the Irish Mountain Running Association and the Irish Orienteering Association, 2) Scouting Ireland, 3) Local Authorities (Dublin City Council, South Dublin County Council and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council), and 4) the National Parks and Wildlife Service. These stakeholders came together with Coillte to form the “Dublin Mountains Partnership” which worked to develop a shared vision for forests in the Dublin mountains. The DMM is at the heart of this vision – the culmination of this partnership approach coupled with Coillte’s own desire to manage up to 20 per cent of its forests principally for biodiversity and recreation.

The DMM has thereby provided a means to create multi-purpose forests which respect the diversity of stakeholder views, while creating more biodiverse forests with improved ecosystems and wide-ranging ecosystem services including socio-cultural services related to recreation.

Innovation

It is estimated that native woodlands in Ireland are worth approximately €35 million annually in amenity use alone[5]. The concept of ‘Green Infrastructure’ is now increasingly mainstreamed within policy discourse to include human health and wellbeing linked to functioning ecosystems[6]. Related to this, there have been repeated calls to improve the biodiversity and amenity access of public-owned forests in the Dublin Mountains.

The DMM is the largest forest transformation project of its kind ever carried out in Ireland. The approach to planting trees in these forests – 90 per cent of which up until the commencement of the DMM were dominated by non-native coniferous trees – is radically changing. Sections with suitable soils are being planted with native trees, and trees will no longer be clear-felled. Instead, Continuous Cover Forestry (CCF) techniques are being used. This approach sees the removal of a small number of trees over time, allowing a mix of species and ages of trees to co-exist at the same time. CCF allows the light to reach the forest floor and new seedlings to grow. This leads to a multigenerational forest with greater species diversity into the future. The DMM is thereby creating new biodiverse habitats and landscapes, while improving the resilience of forests by having trees of different ages growing alongside each other. Furthermore, with recreation and amenity at its core, the DMM is a project that will transform the Dublin Mountains for the benefit of the environment and population well-being – this is the very essence of the European Green Deal.

Efficiency

The Dublin Mountains forests were planted with timber in mind. Today, Coillte recognises that their most significant value is in recreation for the people of Dublin City and their potential in enhancing biodiversity. The DMM is taking place on land that is already owned and planted by Coillte. There has, therefore, been no necessity for Coillte to acquire new land for the DMM. The DMM is targeting the 9 highest footfall forests for amenity and recreation in the Dublin Mountains. Every year about 600,000 people go to woods in Massey’s Estate, Hell Fire Club, Cruagh, Kilmashogue, Tibradden, Ballyedmonduff, Barnasligan and Carrickgollogan to walk their dogs, hike, run, mountain bike, orienteer or horse-ride. With 550 visitors a day, Ticknock woods – right in the centre of this green east-west band of upland forestry – is Coillte’s most popular forest in Ireland. As such, the long-term success of the DMM in terms of enhancing forest recreation is well-targeted. Furthermore, the former commercial plantation management approach (primarily clearfell and replant non-native conifers on a 40-year rotation) was becoming increasingly controversial and difficult to implement in these high recreation forests.  The actions of the DMM will improve the biodiversity of target forests, enhance their recreational appeal and bring more autumn colour to the landscape – while still producing some timber for the sawmilling sector – and engaging an urban population in the understanding of the life-cycle and the uses of trees. As such, the DMM can be considered to be an economically, socially and environmentally efficient practice.

Externality

Where forestry is proximate to other agricultural activities and habitats (e.g. heathland in the Dublin Mountains), the biodiversity restoration benefits all. Ultimately, agriculture and forestry rely on good soil fertility which depends on vital ecosystem services provided by soil biodiversity – from soil bacteria, fungi, rotifers and earthworms[7]. The accurate valuation of the majority of these ecosystem services remains complex. Overall, it is estimated that pollinators contribute €59 million to the Irish economy[8], while the new EU Biodiversity Strategy recognises that more than 75% of global food crop types rely on animal pollination and identifies pollinator decline as one of the five main direct drivers of biodiversity loss. Biodiverse forests will attract pollinators, which in turn help with crop pollination. This is a Nature Based Solution (NBS) which can help to ensure that biodiversity and resilience are secured at the landscape scale.

The “Dublin Mountains Partnership” brought together wide-ranging stakeholders to develop a vision for the Dublin mountains.  This approach underlies the DMM and can provide a template for similar interactions elsewhere. Indeed, the publicity around the DMM has led to calls for other Coillte forests to be similarly converted. This clearly raises important questions for the forestry sector to ensure the economic viability of commercial forestry in the context of “nature friendly” forest management and public perceptions of acceptability.

Intra-regional coordination

Interactions between stakeholders in the forestry sector are extensive in Ireland. This interaction is facilitated through collaborative research, advice and regeneration projects, and through the administration of broad-ranging grant schemes1.

The DMM is a key project for the continued successful co-ordination of wide-ranging stakeholders in the Dublin Mountains and has acted to strengthen co-operation between key groups and organisations which make up the Dublin Mountains Partnership.

Extra regional impact

The DMM has drawn interest from a number of different groups nationally and internationally.  Presentations on the practice have been given by the Coillte Nature team at the Society of Irish Foresters Sean McBride annual lecture; an online An Taisce (the Irish Heritage Trust) webinar as part of their Climate Ambassador programme and a scheduled webinar of the Institute of Chartered Foresters in the UK will take place in January 2021. The DMM project received a ‘Highly Commended’ award at the Irish Planning Institute Awards in 2020. The Irish Planning Institute is the all-island professional body representing planners engaged in physical and environmental planning in Ireland. In the future, Coillte may consider changing the management objective of other forests close to other urban centres beyond the Dublin region in line with the DMM approach.

Quality

This GP emphasises the objectives and values of biodiversity and recreation. Within the GP, the ongoing forest management approach includes:

●        An element of timber production in the areas where mature non-native spruce will be felled and converted to native woodland.

●        Thinning where the conifer plantations are gradually transformed to more mixed woodlands and managed by CCF principles and maintaining a permanent forest canopy.

Continuous Cover Forestry (CCF) – as applied in the DMM – facilitates high quality outdoor recreation, enhances the landscape, stabilises soils, protects water and enriches biodiversity, while also producing valuable renewable timber. This approach may be an appealing ‘starting point’ for commercial foresters who are trying to balance economic viability with responsibilities for biodiversity and recreation in line with the European Green Deal. This will necessarily involve the incorporation of a multifunctional approach into forest management processes by providing pockets and networks of biodiversity/recreation opportunity if commercially viable, and if selected forests are considered suitable for CCF. The DMM, therefore, represents a high quality and well documented example of a “nature friendly” forest management approach proximate to an urban population centre.

Potential for learning or transfer

50% of the Natura 2000 sites in Europe are forests. As such, good examples of sustainable forest management approaches are vital to achieve key targets contained in the European Green Deal. The DMM is a practical example which can inform better forestry planning for biodiversity enhancement and forest recreation proximate to a large urban centre, while maintaining overall commercial viability of the forestry company.

While the practice owner is state-owned, an increasing proportion of forestry activity in Ireland is being conducted on a private basis. With climate change and biodiversity now firmly at the top of EU and national agendas, private sector foresters require new knowledge in order to improve the diversity of their forests to respond to these challenges. The need for forest owners to adopt sustainable forest management (SFM) techniques is vital for biodiversity restoration and to enhance the resilience of Europe’s forests.

In terms of challenges: 1) there is a need to carefully manage plantation forestry for carbon sequestration. While such potential has been recognised in Ireland for some time[9], the impacts of this management technique on biodiversity (and hence on other ecosystem services) can be counterproductive if not carefully planned (e.g., Forestry located on peatland can be a net carbon emitter and cause substantial ecological degradation; 2)  there has been limited concrete progress in terms of adaptation planning to ensure that biodiversity is protected in the context of climate change, while recent reviews of climate action have recommended measures that could counteract biodiversity protection measures. This includes the potential for increased afforestation without consideration of the implications for biodiversity1.

These challenges highlight the need for better information for forest owners and managers in order to balance the commercial viability of their operations with climate change mitigation and biodiversity enhancement responsibilities, in addition to recreational and amenity considerations.

Implementation of this type of GP is not without practical challenges. In particular, converting areas of fast-growing spruce with a timber production objective into native woodland may not be a realistic option for many private growers. These growers have likely planted forests to provide an alternative income source and may not see any income for decades from slower growing broadleaves. Also, the Continuous Cover Forestry (CCF) approach is not suitable in all locations.  CCF can be challenging to practice in Ireland due to consistently strong winds and storms, high rainfall and mild climate which results in strong vegetation growth from species such as bramble, bracken and rhododendron – many of which compete with tree seedlings. Furthermore, many of the dominant soil types are too wet to allow repeated thinning interventions required for CCF. 

Sharing of the DMM as a Good Practice can potentially inform the New Forest Strategy for the EU, particularly for forest restoration initiatives close to urban centres.  It can also be used as a potential template for state-owned and large private commercial forestry companies across Europe to horizontally integrate ecosystem service concerns into their plans and strategies.

Further information

Dedicated webpage for the DMM: https://www.coillte.ie/coillte-nature/ourprojects/dublinmountainsmakeover/

[1] Mc Guinness, S.K. & Bullock, C. (2020). Mobilising Finance for Biodiversity: A policy and institutional review of finance arrangements for biodiversity conservation in Ireland. Report prepared for the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Irish Research Council. University College Dublin, Dublin.

[2] Coillte (2019) Annual Report 2019. Newtownmountkennedy, Wicklow: Coillte.

[3] https://www.coillte.ie/a-beginners-guide-to-continuous-cover-forestry/

[4] DAFM (2019) Forest Statistics – Ireland 2019. Johnstown Castle, Wexford: Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM).

[5] Bullock, C. and Hawe, J. (2014) The Natural Capital Values of Ireland’s Native Woodland. Rathfarnham, Dublin: Woodlands of Ireland.

[6] Scott, M., Lennon, M. and Douglas, O. (2019) ‘Mainstreaming green infrastructure as a health- promoting asset’, Town and Country Planning, pp. 151–156.

[7] Bullock, C., Kretsch, C. and Candon, E. (2008) The Economic and Social Aspects of Biodiversity: Benefits and Costs of Biodiversity in Ireland. Dublin: Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government. doi: ISBN 978-1-4064-2105-7.

[8] NBDC (2015) All-Ireland Pollinator Plan 2015-2020. Waterford: National Biodiversity Data Centre. Available at: internal-pdf://1.72.242.14/NBDC 2015, All-Ireland Pollinator Plan.pdf.

[9] Byrne, K. and Black, K. (2003) Carbon Sequestration in Irish Forests. COFORD Con. Dublin: COFORD.