An independent observer of the Forest Stewartship Council

The certified 'green desert' in the Emerald IsleTags: Ireland, SGS Qualifor, Soil Association Woodmark

This posting has been provided by 'Irish Environmental and Social Stakeholders'

Coillte, the Irish State forestry company which has been FSC certified since 2001, owns 1.1 million acres of some of the wildest and most beautiful parts of Ireland, holding and managing the land in the name of the people of Ireland.

That’s the theory anyway.

Coillte was established under the 1988 Forestry Act, and came into being at the beginning of 1989. All forest land under control of the State's Land Commission was passed to the "semi-state" Coillte Teoranta. This was a step towards the privatisation of 7% of the land mass of the Republic of Ireland. While Coillte continue to purport to be a private company, their only two shareholders are the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Marine and Natural Resources. In fact, Coillte continue to purport to be a private entity even though the European Courts have several times ruled that Coillte is not a private entity.

In reality Coillte's record, in 'carefully' managing the environment of which it is custodian, and 'wisely' using the millions of euros that have poured into it's coffers from the EU since 1989, has been disastrous. Coillte have – in the face of world-wide advice and experience, and evidence as to the often irreversible damage to the environment (not to mention people) continued an out-dated 1950's British forestry policy. In practice, this means covering vast swathes of 'natural habitats' - – bogs, mountains, wetlands – with pesticide laden, monoculture, exotic Sitka Spruce plantations.

Some idea of the recklessness Coillte have shown when it comes to pesticide use, came to light in a parliamentary debate in 2000, when it was learnt that they had ‘dumped’ ten tonnes of the carcinogenic, deadly pesticide, Lindane in its forests, after Lindane had already been banned, exposing hundreds of people, and countless wildlife, to its terrible effects. Lindane is named as one of the 12 deadliest chemicals by Pesticide Action Network (basing it's "deadliness" on it's chemical effects as well as the spectrum of use).

Recently Coillte have been under intense scrutiny for the near total destruction of formerly pristine rivers and lakes, now made toxic, acidic and heavily eutrophicated (?) by Coillte's 450% over-use of rock phosphates, and endangering one of Ireland’s very few surviving indigenous pre Ice-Age species, the Freshwater Pearl Mussel, which is protected under EU legislation. Coillte have always been vociferous in their condemnation of native forests, and the planting of broadleaves. These, we have been told over and over again, are not economical. And are therefore not to be considered. In fact, whilst the national target for the planting of native broadleaves is 50% according to the Heritage Council. The draft Irish FSC standard stipulates a minimum 10% native broadleaves, but as as WoodMark was recently forced to admit, Coillte has so far only achieved 5.2%.

In 2001, Coillte were given the much-heralded FSC certificate by SGS. SGS used to a large degree the "2nd Draft standard" of the Irish National FSC Initiative when certifying Coillte. However, neither the IFCI Draft Number 2 nor the Soil Association Woodmark Generic Standard which was later used for the assessment of Coillte went to public consultation in Ireland. In fact, the standard that Coillte are certified to has never been through a consultation process in Ireland. Consultation is the core of the FSC process, both nationally and internationally. How can this have been allowed to happen?

In 2004, for reasons that were never apparent, Soil Association Woodmark took over from SGS as Coillte's certifier. It was approximately nine months before NGOs in Ireland became aware of this fact. In the summer of 2006, the Soil Association re-certified Coillte as a ‘green’ and ‘sustainable’ forestry company. The howls of despair from environmentalists at such a prestigious badge being handed to a company that uses so many pesticides, that has polluted countless water courses, rivers and lakes, that is adamantly stuck in an outdated, uneconomical and violently anti-environment set of policies, could be heard all over Ireland.

We might have hoped that the Soil Association's involvement as the FSC certifier would have brought a more rigorous approach to Coillte's certification, but we have again been disappointed. As an indication of just how far WoodMark seem to have departed from the very worthy founding principles of the Soil Association, it recently applied for a 'derogation' from FSC's rules on the use of pesticides, which would allow the use of a pesticide called cypermetherin - which is classified as a Class II 'moderately hazardous' substance by the World Health Organisation - across Ireland. We believe that the only reason that WoodMark is aiming to conspire in the soaking of our beautiful country in pesticides is because Coillte's intensive, exotic species-based form of industrial wood fibre production is dependent on the use of such pesticides, and WoodMark want to help them keep their FSC certificate at any cost.

These, and many other failings of Coillte against the FSC's Principles and Requirements, have been documented by us , and sent to the certifier and the FSC. Most of these failings have been documented and known for at least 4 years. Our pleas have been met with obfuscation, delays, and outright lies. In response to our latest submission to the Soil Association, we have received a miserable response full of inconsistencies, contradictions and omissions.

We call on the Soil Association and FSC to immediately withdraw this abomination of a certificate, and we call on all environmentalists everywhere to help us in our struggle.

Irish Environmental and Social Stakeholders


The article posted by Irish and Social Stakeholders on 4th November is misleading in three key respects.
Firstly the submission referred to above received a full and detailed response, it demonstrates that Woodmark has made concerted efforts to evaluate all of the issues raised by stakeholders in Ireland in relation to the issues raised. A copy of the response is available at www.soilassociation.org/forestry. The issues raised are also discussed in the publicly available report. Woodmark has made it clear that it is happy to discuss and investigate further any of the issues raised.
Secondly, the standard against which Coillte were evaluated is the Woodmark Generic Standard adapted for use in Ireland, this incorporates aspects of both the IFCI draft standard and the UK UKWAS standard. This standard was consulted upon by Woodmark prior to its first evaluation of Coillte. Details are reported in publicly available reports.
Thirdly it is grossly misleading and patently ridiculous to suggest that Woodmark is conspiring to soak Ireland in pesticides. At a policy level the Soil Association supports organic approaches to natural resource management, has developed organic standards for forestry and would welcome growth in organic approaches to forest management. However, under FSC certification any forest manager is within their rights to use chemicals in compliance with FSC principles and criteria, and the FSC chemicals policy. Following recent review of the FSC chemicals policy there is the proposal that chemicals previously allowed be now considered as highly hazardous and should not be used without derogation. Any forest manager has the right to request a derogation as part of the update of FSC policy. Woodmark is processing the application on behalf of Coillte, Woodmark's role is to gather and compile stakeholder comment and include this within the derogation request which will be evaluated by FSC. Woodmark neither eplicitly supports nor explicitly opposes the derogation request. Please refer to the FSC chemicals policy for more details.
Kevin Jones. Woodmark Manager. 7th Nov 2006.

Dear Mr. Jones,
I Wish to make it clear, that this is a purely personal reply to your comment above.
I actually just wish to ask two questions:
1. Can you confirm that I understand it right, that, whilst the Soil Asociation's philosophy is to promote organic, i.e. pesticide free operations in agriculture and forestry, it has no problems to work at the same time as a certifying body within the FSC framework all over the world for clients who rely on pesticide use?
2. As I believe that your organisation must feel very uneasy about this, may I ask: What efforts is your organisation making to prevent chemical use within FSC certified forests?
Kind regards Christine Raab-Heine

What is going on? Why are the Soil Association certifying Coillte at all?

Soil Association were, I thought, all about driving the organic movement forward.

Why are they now certifying a company that is ruining the Irish countryside with pesticides and tonnes of fertiliser? If the Soil Association made the standard, why are there no restrictions on fertiliser and pesticide use? Any Certifying Body can create a standard that makes the P&C stronger. All it takes is the will to do it.

It looks like organic standards are only for Britain, not for the Paddies, eh, Mr Jones? Does the Soil Association have NO ethical fibre at all?

Coillte are bad enough. The last thing we need in Ireland is for the Soil Association to make it harder for decent people to make things better. Shouldn't the Soil Association be on OUR side, helping to clean up the way plantations are managed, not the side of multi-million euro big business.

Shame on you, SA!

Karen Williams
Irish social stakeholder

Kevin, a chara,

In certifying Coillte to FSC, Soil Association are not only connecting Coillte with the FSC label, but also with the Soil Association name.

So, under this Soil Association issued certificate, Coillte are using pesticides and fertilizers which have, and continue to, seriously damage the Irish environment - for example the recent high-profile damage done to the habitat of the freshwater pearl mussell.

You cannot separate Coillte's FSC certificate from the Soil Association.

Do you think that this is what Lady Eve Balfour had in mind when she formed the Soil Association, and effectively, the organic movement?

Ciaran Hughes
Irish Social Stakeholder


I read with interest the section on this site on Slovakia. I drew a comparison between the way Soil Association took over from SGS in Ireland, and the way SGS are taking over from Soil Association in Slovakia.

Perhaps you can explain to me the reasons that SGS stopped auditing Coillte Teoranta?

Is mise le meas
Ciaran Hughes

Dear Coillte,
Coillte trees are only spruce trees that everyone hates so why not grow Irish trees? Our neighbour is 83 and he calls spruce trees a curse from the mess they make and how they kill the grass off at the edges of the fields.
We have hundreds and hundreds of trees, but mostly ash. Other tree we have are oak, rowan, hawthorn, hollytrees, birch. We have cherry trees as well. Birds eat the cherrys but who cares? The birds don't go in the Coillte fields. There are loads of Coillte trees round us where all the plants are dead from the sunshine being blocked off and even sheep on the commonage don't go in them. Nobodylikes to go in the Coillte fields as well because the needles stick in you and you can't walk anyway. Our ash trees and birch trees get as big as the Coillte trees so how come you don't grow them too? Coillte should grow Irish trees in the mountains. So what's the problem with Irish trees. Coillte means woods in Irish so you should just grow Irish trees.

Chíomhara NicAmhalghaidh
age: 11
[copied and pasted on her behalf, S. MacAmhalghaidh]

The statement from Mr Jones is misleading to say the least because the vast majority of the Soil Associations Generic Standard was in fact the IFCI Draft. It should be pointed out that this Draft was written without any Public Consultation and was objected to by the Majority of Irish NGOs. The Generic Standard used by The Soil Association was only the Consultation Document compiled by a Technical Working group of the IFCI and had no imput from Irish NGOs. It should also be noted that the Irish Working Group has been described as dysfunctional by a member of FSC. It is also a fact that the majority of Irish NGOs have withdrawn from the FSC Process in Ireland because
(A) NGOs were abused during IFCI meetings,
(B) A former coillte employee and forest manager and a consultant misrepresented themselves and managed to occupy seats on the Social Chamber,
(C) None of the submissions received by IFCI were ever addressed including one from a small Community in Mayo. This submission raised a CAR in 2000 by The SGS but has failed to raise a CAR by The Soil Association despite the fact that has festered since then and is now similar to a battle ground with a local Community daily corralled by State Forces and beaten with batons for exercising their rights under Local Agenda 21.
(D) The IFCI Economic Chamber refused to work with the elected representative from the Social Chamber,
(E) The economic Chambers Blocked the representative of a Coalition of Social and Environmental NGO Groups from taking his seat.
(F) The IFCI introduced a Fee to Participate
(G) The IFCI has been accused of misappropriation of funds in the Public Domain.

To sum up. Mr Jones is dealing with a company that has been accused of illegal actions and because he failed to acknowledge the submission received from the Community Group in Bellinaboy there were at least 4 people hospitalised last Friday and a possibility of Irish People been killed. The Audit by The Soil Association showed nothing but contempt for the Irish People. It shows that The Soil Association considers it acceptable to spray us with pesticides, pollute our rivers and lakes, Ignore our Indigenous Rights, ignore the concerns of our Local Communities and work with a corrupt National Working Group.

Yours Brendan Kelly
Resigned Director of IFCI

Coillte in breach of FSC certificate
The following is an account of Coillte/State arrogance and bullying which takes some beating.

For the purpose of this account, I shall refer to the present landowner as “ the farmer”.

The farmer owns 7 acres of land in the middle of a Coillte wood at Goulacullin, Dunmanway, Co. Cork. (Folio No: 60953)

This 7 acres was originally taken, by “mistake”, from the previous owner by the Irish Forestry Service in the early seventies. The original owner confronted the Forestry Service about this, and they subsequently gave it back to him. The Forestry Service constructed a track in or about 1973, from the public road through these 7 acres, and on to other forestry land beyond the 7 acres, in the early seventies. The original owner has used this track to get to his land ever since, without objection or interference.

In October 2005, Coillte took the farmer to Court in an attempt to get the 7 acres off him. It must be stated that a Solicitor asked Coillte, in 1996, if they owned the 7 acres. Coillte replied (letter of proof available), and said that they “ don’t own it, nor could they grant a right of way over it.”

Coillte were unsuccessful in their attempt to rob the farmer of his land. However, as the Judge was about to leave the Court, Coillte’s barrister asked if they could “deny the farmer access to his land.” The judge granted their request, denied the farmer access to his land, and denied him an appeal.

Coillte then placed a lock on the barrier at the public road at the start of the track going to the farmer’s land.

This farmer is now landlocked because Coillte didn’t get their way in robbing him of his land, assisted by the Judiciary! Is this corruption or what!!
Coillte are clearly in breach of their FSC cert.

Please lend you support to this man by contacting your local TD, or email the Minister at: mary.wallace@oireachtas.ie

Your help is greatly appreciated.

Please see related link: http://www.indymedia.ie/article/80956

Irish Environmental and Social Groups Unite to Demand Removal of Coillte Certificate | FSC-Watch
FSC certification of US public forest lands: the warnings from Michigan | FSC-Watch
FSC certified state forestry company ‘rips-off’ Ireland: official | FSC-Watch
FSC Watch: FSC certification of US public forest lands: the warnings from Michigan
Debate is growing in the US about the certification of public forests with FSC and the so-called Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) being the front-running schemes. There are good reasons to question whether, in its current state, FSC is an appro...
FSC Watch: Irish Environmental and Social Groups Unite to Demand Removal of Coillte Certificate
The following was submitted by the Irish Environmental and Social Stakeholders' Alliance PRESS RELEASE <Embargo until: 00.01am Monday the 27th of November 2006

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