Ireland has a rich resource of Woodland Walks as evidenced in Donal Magner's book 'Stopping by Woods: A Guide to the Forests and Woodlands of Ireland'.
Copies of this publication are now available from our Online Shop.
With kind permission from the Author, FORESTRY.IE would like to introduce the public to some of the Woodland Walks described in the book.
[Note: Observe Government and HSE Covid-19 guidance on social distancing and congregating in groups at all times.]
Exploring Ireland's forests and woodlands - by Donal Magner
Ireland's 350 recreation woodlands were never more important to the nation's health and wellbeing
Although Ireland has only 11% of its land under forests or less than a third of the European average, we have a large number of recreation forests and woodlands open to the public. This is largely due to a visionary decision by the State to become directly involved in restoring the country's woodland resource in the last century which led to an open forest policy. This allows the public to use the forests for recreation and today this policy is enshrined by Coillte, the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and some local authorities while a similar approach was adopted by the Northern Ireland Forest Service (NIFS) and other agencies.
Discovering Ireland's forests
The numbers of Irish people and tourists who visit these forests is increasing year-by-year. Our woodlands are now explored by nature enthusiasts and seasoned walkers who make 29 million annual visits as estimated by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in Forest Statistics Ireland 2019. These visits are normally spread throughout the year and go almost unnoticed. But during holiday periods and during time of crisis - such as the Covid-19 pandemic - they are placed under pressure, presenting crowd congestion problems for foresters, parkland managers and the Gardaí.
Advice on avoiding the crowds
The advice to forest walkers is to be creative in planning your visit. By all means visit the high profile woodlands and forest parks but there are others waiting to be explored. Two tips to avoid the crowds and get more enjoyment from your forest visit:
- Explore the hundreds of lesser known woodlands around the country; and
- Vary your visiting times
The hidden forests
There are at least 350 forests and woodlands with excellent roads and trails in Ireland and many more that people can explore with a little local knowledge. The first piece of advice is remember Robert Frost's "road not taken". For example, when visiting Co. Wicklow, instead of concentrating on popular venues such as Glendalough, Avondale and the Glen of the Downs, explore the other two dozen less popular but equally rewarding woodlands.
Dubliners can also explore forests at their doorstep. While the county has low forest cover, it has a good spread of woodlands such as the Massey Estate, Cruagh, Carrickgollogan and the Hell Fire Club but there are plenty others and don't forget the county's and city's network of wooded parks such as Malahide, Marlay, Newbridge and St. Anne's.
But every county has open forests. Some are small and sufficiently intimate to walk without losing sight of fellow travellers; others are large and remote providing complete solitude, often linking up with national walking trails that traverse forest and mountain.
The second piece of advice is to change your routine. There is no longer any need to get into your car and slavishly join thousands of others on Sunday to reach a destination that may be closed because of crowd control. Instead, go in midweek to avoid traffic chaos and where social distancing is not an issue. Walk your favourite forest at sunrise, to the sound of birdsong, far from the madding crowd. The lure of the wood is still strong, especially for a people who feel the need, more than ever, to communicate with nature.
What you will see
While a small number of Ireland's forests contain the remnants of ancient woodlands, most were established since the middle of the last century mainly for economic reasons by hard working foresters and forest workers. The main objective is to produce wood, so they often contain a high percentage of conifers but the National Forestry Inventory discovered 53 different tree species comprising 21 conifers and 32 broadleaves, in addition to a diverse flora as half of Ireland's forests have vegetation cover greater than 90%, excluding trees.
All these forests are managed as a multipurpose resource with wide ranging benefits including enhancement of landscape, ecology, heritage and the soul.
About the Author
Donal Magner is a forester, forest owner and journalist based in Wicklow. Forestry editor of the Irish Farmers Journal, he is the author of Stopping by Woods: A Guide to the Forests and Woodlands of Ireland. He is editor of the Forestry & Timber Yearbook and and co-author of publications including Glimpses of Irish Forestry, Woodspec and Devil's Glen: Sculpture in Woodland, featuring a foreword by the late Seamus Heaney. He holds a Masters Degree in forestry from UCD, while his MA from DCU explored Irish forestry as observed by poets from the Gaelic to the contemporary era. A recipient of the RDS-Forest Service Judges' Special Award for his contribution to Irish forestry, he serves on forestry policy and advisory bodies in Ireland.