LABOUR Senator John Whelan is calling for the recreational use of state forests to be protected, following the government’s proposals to sell the Coillte forest crop.
“There is an assumption, probably a reasonable one, that the sale of the forest tree crop will produce a more aggressive commercial environment,” said Senator Whelan.
“Concerned groups fear that the open access policy will be threatened and that recreational amenities will no longer be maintained as they should be.”
Claiming that the sale will impact negatively on public access and recreational use of State forests, Senator Whelan said that the Coillte estate represents more than 7% of Ireland’s landmass and an estimated 18 million individual visits are made to the Coillte estate each year, making it one of the most significant recreational and environmental resources in the country.
“The public can access miles of walking, hiking and long distance trails, enjoy the thrill of cycling on new world class bike trails, fish, picnic, watch wildlife, canoe on rivers, visit prehistoric tombs and historic houses or just sit and enjoy the outdoors,” he said.
“It is particularly important at a time when we are promoting good health, fighting obesity and keeping people out of hospital that our recreational facilities are not only maintained to a good standard but improved on and developed where possible.”
While the government intend to sell the forest tree crop but not the land on which the trees grow, Senator Whelan pointed out that ownership in itself will not protect the recreational use of forests.
“It is the management of the estate that will determine how public access will be maintained and amenities developed in the public interest.”
The senator also said he was anxious that Coillte proceed in partnership with Laois and Offaly County Councils to develop recreational mountain-bike tracks across the Slieve Blooms, which he described as ‘one of the country’s great gems for walkers and enthusiasts of outdoor pursuits’.
“My belief is that the State forests, even those comprised of commercial forest, are on publicly owned land and should be managed and maintained for the benefit of Irish people. I intend to raise this issue in the Senate at the earliest opportunity in the new year and directly with the relevant ministers, so that these genuine concerns can be addressed and assuaged,” he concluded.