Dublin Mountains Makeover

update from Philip Brennan, (Setanta and Dublin Mountains Partnership)

Most of you will have recently heard about Coillte’s plans for the forests of the Dublin Mountains, if you haven’t seen the video please click here. The catalyst for this dramatic change goes back to July 2006 when the lobby group – the Dublin Mountains Initiative (DMI) was launched in response to Coillte’s felling plans for Ticknock forest.

DMI is a recreational lobby group comprising of the main sporting/outdoor organisations including the IOA, IMRA, Mountaineering Ireland, Scouting Ireland and Cycling Ireland with a common purpose to safeguard the Dublin Mountains for the enjoyment & use by the people of Dublin & Ireland. This vision included proposals for waymarked and specialist trails, greater user facilities and infrastructure, a ranger program, a Dublin Mountains Way, permanent orienteering courses etc.

As a result of intensive lobbying & engagement with other key partners & stakeholders the Dublin Mountains Partnership (DMP) was formed. The DMP was created under a Memorandum of Understanding in May 2008 and including the DMI its board members comprised of Coillte, Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council, South Dublin County Council, National Wildlife & Parks Service, Dublin City Council and more recently Failte Ireland. Out of this partnership was born a shared vision of developing and promoting the growth of recreational and outdoor activity in the Dublin Mountains. Since then regular visitors will have noticed many changes including:

  • Improved signage, upgraded car parks with automated entry
  • Permanent Orienteering Courses
  • Wheel-O disabled access orienteering course
  • MTB Trails – both official & unofficial
  • Bike Hire – Ticknock
  • Sli Na Slainte trails
  • Zipit Forest Adventures – Tibradden
  • Regular Guided Walks
  • The Dublin Mountain Way
  • Volunteer Ranger Program

One of the challenges encountered from the very start was the determination of Coillte to retain its right to carry on its commercial forestry in all of the Dublin Mountains Forests. Although very committed partners to the DMP this was a red line for Coillte and something we had to live with while striving to promote the growth of recreational usage in the region. Over the years the DMP achieved much of its objectives and this was very evident to forest users, however the huge increase in visitor numbers brought about new challenges and when Coillte announced further felling plans for Ticknock in 2017 the DMI took the position that something had to change. More intensive lobbying followed and we produced the Change of Emphasis Document – to view please click here.

Three years have passed since the publication of this document and Coillte has now finally recognised the fact that all commercial forestry activities need to cease in particular high usage forests of the Dublin Mountains. Reaching this agreement was not easy and many in Coillte were very concerned, particularly given the loss of revenue together with the fear of contagion – that other areas might look for the same adjustment to forestry programs. After quite some time agreement was reached and we have achieved what we looked for in all of our high priority Dublin Mountains Forests. This change of direction will be led by Coillte Nature, a new division of Coillte in conjunction with the newly formed Forest Conversion Group.

So what does this mean for our Dublin Mountain Forests? Well for a start we will see the end of blanket sitka-spruce forestry and the intensive planting of native species, primarily hardwood & broadleaf such as oak, ash, rowan, holly etc. There will also be an end to traditional clear felling and a move to CCF – Continuous Cover Forestry. This is an enormous change and will come with a bit of pain. Initially we will see some clearfell (the last one) in the forests and replacement and planting of predominantly broadleaf species. In addition, the newly planted areas may be fenced off for some time to protect the saplings from deer so it might not look too pretty for a while. However time will pass, trees will grow and we can look forward to a future of beautiful broadleaf & mixed forestry where we can walk, run and most important of all, orienteer in these woodlands. They will cease to be blanket Sitka spruce commercial forests and transform into light filled, life sustaining mixed and broad-leafed woodlands.  Indeed, of all the recreational activities ours is the sport that will most likely benefit the most.

 Imagine…. in full flow…in the zone…orienteering magnificently through wonderful broadleaf forestry, sunlight streaming down through the leaves, the forest floor is crunchy underfoot with beech nuts and acorns, you are moving  fast and navigating flawlessly. Below you the city is brimming with activity, people, traffic & noise but up here there is just you in the woods, gliding through time, surrounded by the natural world, bird and insect life all around, you at one with your sport and with nature….oh the future is bright!

So the plan is in place, the changes are beginning, the work is commencing and let us hope that the result will be what we desire. The DMI’s work is not yet done, we remain committed to the project and will have representation on the Forest Conversion Group. We will continue to work for the benefit of all recreational users to ensure we achieve best outcomes possible for us all. The journey has been long, sometimes frustrating but we are finally seeing real change, change that will be visible but given the timespans involved will really benefit future generations of Dubliners and indeed all future forest users.