FSC-certified Coillte, Ireland: “environmentally destructive, rapacious”

The following letter recently appeared in the Irish newspaper, the Examiner.

It paints a disturbing picture of the environmental impact of the FSC-certified state forestry company, Coillte, which controls around 400,000 hectares of land in Ireland. FSC-Watch has reported on Coillte several times in the past – but the certificate remains as a stain on FSC’s credibility.

It has also brought into doubt the credibility of Soil Association Woodmark, which took over the certificate from SGS in 2004, and re-issued the certficate in 2005. In contravention of the FSC’s requirements, Soil Association Woodmark has, as of March 7th, failed to produce a public report of its annual surveillance of Coillte, which took place in December 2006.

“Despite its green credentials, Coillte continues to ignore its environmental culpability”.

As the supposed environmental custodian of 8% of Ireland’s land, Coillte still persists with policices considered environmentally destructive by many international wildlife and forest authorities. Britain’s Forestry Authority ceased intensive plantation of conifers 18 years ago and now recommends such estates be chopped down and replaced with native woodlands. While the injurious environmental side-effects of conifer plantations are well-documented, Coillte claims “sitka spruce is ideally suited for Ireland’s mountains and marginal land”.

This is wrong. Mountain soil is unsuitable for conifer growth and only becomes plantable when the bog-cover is gouged open and drained. This causes the underlying clay to release toxic iron and aluminium and water acidity rises, resulting in the neighbouring waterways (many of which are prime salmon and trout nursery streams) becoming virtually lifeless. While evidence from Canada shows forestry chemicals destroy the homing mechanisms of migrating salmon, Coillte admits to having annually used nine tonnes of organo-chloride Lindane, knowing this pesticide is banned in Ireland, North America and Europe. Coillte has also regularly used the insecticide Cypermethrin, a well documented destroyer of both insect and aquatic life.

To successfully grow conifers, the soil must be enriched with phosphate, followed by further fertiliser applications at later dates. Coillte’s mode of application is via helicopter, an environmentally destructive and wasteful method because 30% of fertilisers is lost to wind and rain and by its falling on unplanted ground. These huge volumes of phosphate are responsible for the eutrophication of waterways.

After 12 years, the conifers are harvested but unlike normal tree-felling, all involved terrain is ripped up – roots, soil and vegetation. The released mud and conifer detritus form lagoons of organic filth that sluices down the hillsides, washing torrents of phosphates and nitrates into the waterways. This causes both neighbouring pollution and obliteration of life in distant lakes, rivers and streams.

How can this be allowed to happen? Before it’s too late, the EPA or Environment Department should do something to protect what is left of Ireland’s once-proud environment from Coillte’s rapacious policies.

Dr Roderick D O’ Sullivan 8 Devonshire Place London W1G 6HP England



  1. Well you may remember me in Feb. 1998 I moved my family from Dublin to Woodlawn Ballinasloe Co. Galway just as Coillte were finished felling the old and very Beautiful natural woodland’s to plant Sitka spruce plantation…

    At that time I had no idea about the forestry or it’s practices. the house We were renting next to National School and less than Fifty yards away from the Coillte property.
    In May 1998 we were contaminated by chemical Lindane used by coillte. I spent many months getting them to admit they had used it and got letters saying they had stopped… I worked endlessly trying to make the locals that there was something seriously wrong.. My children both suffered burning on all exposed skin and my youngest Daughter Róisín had to be rushed to emergency room unable to breath within hours of exposure.
    I was told they were suffering from Eczema and had really bad asthma attacks. I knew the Doctors were so wrong and when I finally got proof some of them just continued to ignore me.
    It took a very long time to repair damaged caused to the respiratory system’s using Carrageen Moss and Manuka Honey.I started to make the Essiac Formula and gave it to anyone that needed and wanted it……..People in the Area were getting sick but only a few could imagine the the Government were killing us slowly with chemicals they choose to use without licence, clearance from EPA or any regard for their family’s and Everyone living WITHIN 10 MILES OR MAYBE MORE TO A Coillte Plantation!!!!
    Countless young people in this area have died an awful lot are suffering from Lung irritation, unnatural hormonal levels, Heart disorders, Blood disorders, short term memory loss, Tumours, Convulsions, Seizures, Brain Cancer, Bowel Cancer and Breast cancer!!!!!!!!!!!!I had to leave Woodlawn and Ballymacward. I moved to the City in August2005 it was all getting to much for me. People out there thought I was just a crazy Woman as Micheal Daveron Then spokes person for coillte led them to believe during a radio show Galway Bay F.M.with Keith Fennigan and myself.
    He told the listeners, I rang the Coillte Head office, ranting and raving claiming to have been attacked by Pine Weevil.
    Billy was diagnosed with bowel cancer in Feb2006 after I spent few years nagging him to go see a doctor. when he finally did it was too late. Billy Died on 22nd December 20008.
    I need to readdress this whole situation. I usually enjoy when I am right about thing’s but this was one time I take no pleasure in it..
    I am asking for help and Support!!!!!!!!

    The continued use of such chemical’s by the Government constitutes “Willful Neglect” by a Government of it’s people.

  2. I visited IReland back in Feb, 2014. I was very disappointed by the horrific treatment of natural areas by these greedy companies. Everywhere I look are either bare, treeless fields or hideous, obviously non-native conifer plantations, or brown, dead looking areas where they were clear-cut. I have travelled a lot to various countries across the world, and rarely have I seen such abuse of nature and her lands. I got the impression the Irish hate nature, and especially native trees, as the very few native trees I saw were all small and spindly – obviously they are not even allowed to grow to maturity before they are hacked down. We were considering buying property in Ireland, but to be honest, the environmental impact of these en-mass conifer plantations and the fact that they are spraying them, and the lack of native trees, has put us off Ireland as a potential investment nation. If Ireland destroys its nature, it will one day suffer for it, both environmentally, and economically. I was told that Coillte even plant these plantations in national parks, such as Wicklow. How very sad. Some folks I know are so disappointed by the destruction of natural areas in Ireland, that they no longer bother to visit Ireland as a holiday destination.

  3. Hi Bish, I am Irish and everything you say is correct. I remember being asked to walk what is called the “Sugarloaf-Trail” which, per a tourism site “dominates the skyline as you drive south from Dublin into Wicklow”. It is an uplands. I could not understand the enthusiasm of people for such a denuded, scorched-earth place. But few Irish people would ever think of trees, their worth or their beauty. I wont judge them any further as to why. It is a sad state of affairs. We have the lowest tree cover im Europe which is sad given this country, once upon a time, was covered top to bottom with fabuluos oak forests. Now its just one big field dotted here and there with awful looking plantations, a state off affairs that is seemingly very aggreable to the my countrymen.

  4. Brian, it’s heartening that there are people like you in Ireland, though sadly, I suspect you are still in the minority. Still, even a minority can grow and eventually drive out ignorance. I feel sad for the natural environment of Ireland, and I felt while I was there that once upon a time it must have been so incredibly magical and beautiful, in the days when native trees and wildflowers were respected and allowed to grow. Let’s hope that changes once again with the help of good, aware people like yourself who recognize the special treasures right in front of us that too many people take for granted.

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