“Forests are best served by farmers” – Marina Conway (Western Forestry Co-op)

30 Aug , 2023  

Thanks to the unprecedented range of generous supports available to farmers, there has never been a better time to consider combining farming and forestry. We touched base with Western Forestry Co-op CEO Marina Conway to look at the many benefits of farm afforestation and why it is imperative that farmers retain ownership of their land.

For coming up on four decades, Western Forestry Co-op has been providing invaluable support to landowners, not least in advising farmers on how they can use forestry as the enabler to enhance their farming enterprises. At present there are better incentives than ever available to farmers to increase forest cover on their land and CEO Marina Conway encourages farmers to look at the options available to them and strongly consider woodland creation on their farms.

“New forests in Ireland need to be farm forests. They have to be part of the local community and owned by farmers,” she stresses. “There are twelve different forest types that farmers can create and integrate into their overall farming enterprise. Forestry can work for farmers and they should talk to the Co-op about how they can best make this happen.”

Western Forestry Co-op is the largest and longest established forestry co-operative in Ireland and the only one to deal solely with farmers and landowners. Since its establishment by the dairy & Livestock co-operatives in  western counties in 1985, it has provided a comprehensive raft of support services to landowners considering forestry, facilitating the planting and management of thousands of acres of forestry along the western seaboard.

Professional forestry services provided include forest establishment, afforestation, forest management planning, harvesting, forest roads, , Community Woodland projects, Woodland Festival and a forest insurance scheme. Since its genesis, the consistent mantra at Western Forestry Co-op has been that the creation and ownership of our forests  is best served in the custodianship of farmers, local communities and landowners.

“Farmers need to get the correct advice on how to build forestry into their overall farm mix,” Marina continues. “There is a lot of competition out there for land for forestry at the moment, the co-op was set up to empower farmers to plant their own land rather than sell it, we believe that forest land is best served in the ownership of farmers and local communities than investment funds. We really want farmers to retain ownership of their land – forests are for farmers!”

– Western Forestry Co-op did not support the recent announcement by Coillte that it has joined forces with a major foreign investment house to establish a fund to create a portfolio of 12,000 hectares of forest land – sovereign Irish land which would be annexed from rural ownership, local communities and local economies.

This plan goes against everything Western Forestry Co-op stands for – which is afforestation by farmers, landowners and communities. The Co-op feels very strongly that forests are best managed in the hands of the Irish people, and not investment funds.

Last November, new forestry supports totalling €1.3 billion – to be delivered through the new Forestry Programme, were announced, with premiums for planting trees to be increased by between 46% and 66% and extended to 20 years for farmers. This funding represents the largest ever investment by an Irish Government in tree-planting.

Farmers should view forestry as an investment in their own land. “The premiums received over 20 years will cover what farmers would get from selling their land – and they will still have their land and the trees,” Marina points out. “When you are getting between €15,000 and 22,000 per hectare in premiums over 20 years, it makes no sense to sell. You still have the land and the trees and state-backed premiums coming in for 20 years.

“If circumstances change, farmers will always still have the option of selling their land  down the line, but the decision to sell is irreversible. If you sell today, you can’t reverse that decision. The land is gone.”

In conjunction with the HSE and Sligo County Council, Western Forestry Co-op has planted 105 acres of native woodland at Cloonamahon Native Woodland Park, which was officially launched on Monday, February 20th 2023. This historic development – the largest such project anywhere in Ireland – had over 100,000 native trees planted.

The initial 105 acres of HSE land being converted to native woodland include 4.5km of tracks and trails as well as a picnic area and playground. A model forest is being established over 23 acres of land owned by Western Forestry Co-op, who will also be be build with wood on the site to highlight what can be achieved using different types of timber.

As well as the forest premiums already mentioned and harvesting their own timber, farmers who opt to plant forests on their land can also avail of significant funding under BISS (Basic Income Support Scheme) and the Organic Scheme, but the benefits of afforestation of farmland are not just financial. Incorporating forestry into farmlands also brings immeasurable gains for biodiversity, wildlife, the environment and sustainability including carbon sequestration, cleaner air, water and soil protection, habitat creation and protection, and of course fuel generation.

“The future of forestry in Ireland depends on farmers and we have to get as many farmers as possible re-engaged in forestry,” Marina concludes. “No other country in Europe needs or has the potential to create the level of new forests that Ireland can, as we have the lowest forest cover in Europe at 11 per cent, where the average is 37 per cent.

“Working with local communities to foster an indigenous forest culture, we want to see a sustainable and diverse integration of forestry into farming enterprises, which farmers themselves can own, manage and benefit from.”

Western Forestry Co-op,

Finisklin Road,


County Sligo.

Tel: 071 9161458

Email: [email protected]

Web: westernforestrycoop.ie

First published in Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 11 No 3, May/June 2023