The spatial pattern of state afforestation in County Wicklow
The spatial pattern of state afforestation in the Republic of Ireland is fragmented and dispersed. The aim of this work is to discover how significant are the economic effects of this pattern, with a particular view to seeing whether there are implications for future land acquisition policy. The forests of County Wicklow (the county with the longest history and the highest percentage area of state forestry) are examined as a test case using methods drawn from quantitative geography and from forestry. Most land for state afforestation is acquired by buying holdings no longer required in agriculture. The fragmented forest pattern has thus resulted from the fragmented pattern of private land ownership. Holdings are particularly small on poor agricultural land and in addition most unimproved lands are owned as commonage. These factors, and the determination of most owners to retain their lands even if they are not using them, make the assembly of state forest land a slow and difficult process. The evolution and the structure of the forest pattern in Wicklow are described quantitatively, the pattern being examined both as a whole and in terms of its component parts. It is found that site productivity is highest in the most fragmented forests. It is also found that there is a continuing trend towards consolidation. An economic model is then constructed and applied to the different forest patterns in order to compare their relative levels of economic efficiency. Results of these analyses confirm the greater cost of running a fragmented as opposed to a consolidated forest but also show that when, as is usually the case, site productivity, is higher in fragmented forests then the resulting higher revenues will more than offset the increased running costs. In other words, site productivity has a stronger influence on forest economics than has the spatial pattern. The concluding recommendation is that an accompanying high degree of fragmentation should not usually deter the state from giving preference to better sites when acquiring land. This course will be more profitable even in the short term and in the long term the trend towards consolidation, provided every effort is made to ensure that it is maintained, will help to alleviate the disadvantages of fragmentation.