Trinity, UCD and Coillte to examine multiple benefits of forests and enhance sustainable management of woodlands

Posted on: 08 December 2021

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine yesterday announced funding for the FOR-ES research project, which will look to co-develop tools for sustainable forestry management decision-making. FOR-ES is led by Trinity, in collaboration with UCD and Coillte.

It is well understood that forestry provides timber, but it also supports biodiversity and supplies other public benefits, including carbon capture to tackle climate change. However, unless forestry is managed in a way that recognises these multiple benefits, and decisions are made to consider these additional values, they could become ignored. 

FOR-ES will implement a more holistic approach,  known as ‘Natural Capital Accounting’, and the research project could have a huge influence on how Ireland approaches forestry in the future. The involvement of Coillte as Ireland’s largest forestry company underlines the potential of the project and the interest in developing new processes for managing Ireland’s forests. 

Professor Jane Stout from Trinity’s School of Natural Sciences is the project lead. She said: 

I am excited to be working with colleagues in UCD and Coillte on this project, because it builds on seven years of collaboration to bring natural capital approaches to practice and policy through Natural Capital Ireland, and on our ongoing research to apply natural capital accounting methods at various scales. 

“This interdisciplinary approach is really important because assessing natural capital stocks and valuing benefits from forests can help enable sustainable decision-making, which is crucial to address the current biodiversity and climate crises.”

This project will develop Natural Capital Accounts for specific forest sites. These accounts will capture information on forest natural capital STOCKS (the amount, location and condition of forest habitats), and the FLOWS of ecosystem services (in terms of commercial timber production, carbon sequestration, water retention, biodiversity and recreation). 

Speaking about the potential for the project, Imelda Hurley, CEO of Coillte, said:

“Coillte is delighted to work with Trinity College Dublin and UCD on this exciting and innovative research using natural capital accounting approaches. Forests provide multiple benefits: they clean the air we breathe, are key to tackling climate change (through carbon storage and sequestration), provide essential wood for building our homes and create beautiful biodiverse habitats. Additionally forests provide wonderful recreation spaces, known to support our physical and mental health, features which we have come to value significantly more during Covid. This project will allow us to better understand and value those benefits.”

Bayesian Belief Network modelling will be used to understand the effects of different management decisions on ecosystem service flows, and an interactive web-based management scenario tool will be developed. 

Project partner, Associate Professor Mary Kelly-Quinn, from the School of Biology and Environmental Science at UCD, added:

“This is the first time a natural capital-accounting approach has been combined with Bayesian Belief Network modelling of ecosystem services supply to support structured decision-making in an Irish context. The tools developed will help inform forest managers in the design and management of forests for multiple benefits other than just timber production. This work will build on the research undertaken by the EPA-funded ESDecideproject, which developed a decision-support tool for management of river ecosystem services.”

The new project also builds on a previous Trinity-led EPA-funded project, INCASE, that developed the processes for natural capital accounting at catchment scale in Ireland, and It runs alongside the Kinsella Challenge-based E3 Multi-disciplinary project FOREST, led by Trinity’s School of Natural Sciences.

FOREST is taking a multidisciplinary approach to developing socially just, ecologically sound, and economically viable approaches to native woodland afforestation.  

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