The 9 Ha parcel of woodland that Coillte is selling. Photo: Hodnett Forde

Locals protest sale of forest

A number of parties are interested in purchasing a parcel of woods near Riverstick in county Cork from Coillte.

A petition has been organised opposing the sale. Locals are worried that they will lose the use of a number of trails in the woods, which are hugely popular, especially during the pandemic.

Speaking in the Dáil on Tuesday, An Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he was against the sale and promised to take the matter up with Coillte.

“I don’t believe that we should be selling woodlands. I don’t know the background to this or the circumstances but I will certainly follow this up with Coillte,” he said in response to a request by Independent TD Michael Collins to intervene.

Yesterday Coillte released a statement which confirmed that “the area proposed for sale contains no recreational trails used by the public. The existing walking trails in Ballymartle forest are not included in the proposed area for sale and would be completely unaffected were the sale to continue.”

The statement added that Coillte was originally approached by an interested party seeking to purchase nine hectares of land from the forest property at Ballymartle “with a view to potentially creating a woodland accommodation and recreational offering which would increase visitor numbers to the area and support local businesses and communities. Other interested parties have subsequently contacted Coillte.”

Coillte said it understands the area would “remain under forest were the sale to proceed”.

A spokesperson for Hodnett Forde confirmed that there has been interest in the 9 Ha (22 acre) parcel of forestry. Ballymartle forest is approximately 40 hectares according to the forestry body.

Independent TD Michael Collins spoke in the Dáil on Tuesday asking the Taoiseach Micheál Martin to intervene. “In an era when we are told we need to protect our environment and green spaces, why are Coillte - a State agency - proposing to sell their local woodlands?”

He said he had been contacted by many residents who explained the great benefits of the amenity. Social Democrat TD Holly Cairns also spoke against the sale in the Dáil last Thursday.

More than 700 people have signed a petition against the sale although the petition was set up before it was known that the trails used by the public would not be affected by the sale.

Fianna Fáil councillor Sean O’Donovan said: “I have written to Coillte and have asked them to reverse their decision and will also ask Cork County Council to purchase the lands to ensure that the woodland is kept for the people.

“I have a motion down for our next municipal district meeting on Thursday week asking Cork County Council to save these lands from commercial buyers.”

Independent Cllr Ben Dalton O’Sullivan is also against the selling off of this woodland. “It is of vital importance to the people of Riverstick/Ballinhassig/Ballymartle areas as a local amenity. People use this area for walking and recreation and it is sad to think that this local amenity is being sold off. We should be looking to preserve green spaces and forestry areas.”

Just last week Coillte decided not to sell 39 acres of forestry in Enniskerry, Co. Wicklow after a public outcry. Coillte pointed out it manages a 440,000 hectare forest estate on behalf of the people of Ireland and regularly buys and sells land as part of normal estate management operations.

“Land is bought and sold by Coillte for a range of reasons including the expansion of our forests, facilitation of our neighbours, local communities, schools and businesses and to support strategic national objectives such as tourism, regional development and infrastructure projects.”