Coillte & Certification: Coillte Responds
Irish Timber & Forestry Magazine
March/April 2005 Edition – Vol. 14 No. 2.
In reply to the article “Coillte & Certification” in the Jan/Feb issue of IT&F, Coillte has responded with the following.
Coillte wishes to respond to the article on “Coillte and Certification” that appeared in the Jan/Feb 05 edition of Iriah Timber and Forestry.
Coillte would like to express its extreme disappointment that it was not given the opportunity to address the allegations made in the so-called petition and accompanying article in advance of it being published. It is a fundamental principle of good journalism to allow anybody against whom an allegation is made the opportunity to address the allegations made towards them in advance of publication.
Coillte is also dismayed that a magazine that serves the forest industry in Ireland would publish an article that is so negative, inaccurate and biased towards forestry as practised in Ireland given the major economic, environmental and social contribution that the industry makes. Constructive, well informed and objective criticism should be welcomed; regrettably this article met none of those criteria.
The article is based on a mixture of un-supported allegations, half truths and bad science and many of the points made do not warrant a response. However, there are a number of serious issues that we would wish to address. To say that “Coillte’s past and present standards of operation are far below international FSC standards” is ludicrous. Greater than 48 million hectares of forests have been certified world-wide by the FSC to date, in a very rigorous process of verification that forests are well managed in accordance with strict social, environmental and economic criteria. This statement not only calls into question the good management of Coillte’s 444,000 hectares of forests, but also the other 47.5 million forests certified globally. Coillte was certified by the FSC in 2001 and each year since then has had a surveillance audit to ensure that it maintains the FSC standard. In that period we have been audited by two firms of FSC accredited auditors SGS-Qualifor and Soil Association Woodmark and these audits have involved at least ten different personnel. By any standards achieving and retaining certification in a process that has been subject to such public scrutiny is an achievement of which Coillte is justifiably proud.
Continuous improvement is a central philosophy of the FSC and Coillte has made significant improvements in the management of its forests in recent years. This can be verified by any stakeholder who can easily access information about how we manage our forests by reading our Social and Environmental reports, published annually since 2001, by accessing our website (www.coillte.ie), by subscribing to our quarterly e-newsletter on our website, or by going through normal consultation channels. Coillte has twice been commended for excellence in sustainability by the ACCA in the last four years. The ACCA endorses the internationally recognised reporting guidelines of Global Reporting Initiative (www.globalreporting.org), and Coillte has adopted these guidelines for transparent reporting.
Coillte’s Social and Environmental reports (available on its website) clearly demonstrate our policies and practices in relation to all issues raised by the Woodland League. Our reports present detailed information on our Social and Environmental Programme that shows ongoing progress each year towards our long-term goals in these areas, including:
* A significant nature conservation programme that includes: management of 15% of our estate for nature conservation; the surveying of our forests for their ecological value; the restoration of important habitats such as blanket bogs, raised bogs and native woodlands; the protection of endangered species such as the lesser horseshoe bat, the freshwater pearl mussel and the hen harrier; and the retention of dead-wood;
* Clear policies in relation to best practice in chemical usage and data showing significant reduction in pesticide and fertiliser application across our estate;
* Species data that clearly show that almost half of our forests are planted with diverse conifers and broadleaves. Our policies in relation to species distribution and the FSC guidelines in relation to species are clearly laid out in these reports;
* A significant programme for consultation with stakeholders, which includes: consultation with statutory bodies such as the forest service, the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Fisheries Boards; ongoing consultation with stakeholders in relation to Forest Management Plans; 13 independently selected Social and Environmental Panels across the country; and development and implementation of complaints and grievance procedures;
* Our commitment to local communities theough almost 100 ongoing community partnership projects around the country; and
* Ongoing improvement in the recreational resources that we provide to all visitors to our forests at no cost to them.
In conclusion Coillte considers the organisers of this petition to be misinformed and motivated by factors other than a commitment to sustainable forest management. Any objective assessment of the evolving situation in Irish forestry would recognise that Coillte has made a huge commitment in recent years to achieving a balance between commercial success and environmental and social progress. This has been recognised by the achievement of FSC certification which remains the preferred certification scheme of environmental and social non governmental organisations worldwide. Coillte is a commercial company and we were mandated to operate commercially by the democratically elected members of the Oireachtas in the Forestry Act of 1988. However, Coillte has clearly demonstrated in the past 10 years that commercial success can go hand-in-hand with providing environmental and social benefits and will continue to strive for balanced forest management of its business in the future.
Yes, it is true that Coillte was not consulted re the content of the “Coillte & Certification” article as included in the last issue of IT&F. However, this was not intended to be an anti Coillte piece, but instead to highlight the anti-plantation-forestry / Coillte petition that was, and continues to be, circulated.
As I said in the last issue, I believe the forestry sector should have it’s voice heard to highlight the huge environmental and social benefits of forestry. While many, if not the majority of readers of this magazine, will completely disagree with the Woodland League’s argument and question the validity of many of the points raised, I believe that people outside the forestry sector could be convinced by such negative propaganda. I believe further that we shoul assume this to be the case and react accordingly.
Perhaps IT&F should have given Coillte the opportunity to respond in the last edition: however, we are delighted to include the company’s reply here.