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Suspended sentence for woman who cut down spruce trees in Coillte forest and replaced them with native trees

Jones said that she was just trying to protect the environment.

Jones pictured at her home in Kealkill, West Cork earlier this year.
Jones pictured at her home in Kealkill, West Cork earlier this year.
Image: Gary O' Neill/SionedJones

A WOMAN WHO claimed she was “a conscientious objector of the environment” has received a twelve-month suspended sentence after she was found guilty of stealing €500 worth of Sitka Spruce belonging to Coillte after she used a chainsaw to fell over 200 trees at a forest in Co Cork. 

Following a trial at Cork Circuit Criminal Court last February Judge Sean O’Donnabhain directed that the jury find Sioned Jones (61) not guilty of criminal damage of a Coillte Forest near her home in Maughnaclea, Kealkill.  

The trial had heard that 250 trees were felled in the woods and 250 more were ringbarked. 

The jury found her guilty of a second charge of dishonestly appropriating felled spruce wood from Kealkill between 1 November 2018 and 4 December 2018 to the value of €500. 

Jones said she had rights of foraging under ancient law. She told the court she was one of earth’s protectors managing part of the forest because of her love for Ireland’s native trees.  

However, she said she was prepated to desist from cutting and taking woods from the plantation next to her house.

“I understand that I am not to do that again without the permission of Coillte.”

The case was adjourned until today to see if Jones would keep her undertaking to the court. 

Defence barrister Peter Flynn said that there had been “no problem at all” since the case earlier this year. He told the court that there had also been a positive development with Coillte. 

He said an official from Coillte had visited the site where Sionad had planted broadleaf trees and had agreed to protect those trees by fencing them off from deer. He said Coillte had also vowed to plant other trees adjacent to the site. 

Judge Sean O’Donnabhain made an order that the chain saw and other equipment used by Jones be forfeited. 

He imposed a 12-month sentence which he suspended for a period of 12 months. This followed undertaking from Jones that she would be of good behaviour and keep the peace during that period. 

A jubilant Jones said she had no regrets about coming before the courts. 

“Hopefully as more of the spruce in the vicinity becomes of a size that they are ready to harvest Coillte will take them away and replace them with broadleaf trees.”

During the trial, Jones told the court that she conducted her campaign of spruce removal at the west Cork forest, owned by Coillte since 1995, to promote native broad-leaf Irish trees – and planted such trees herself in clearings she had restored in the woodland from spruce.

Jones of Maughanaclea, Kealkill, Bantry, Co Cork was well supported during the trial with up to 25 people taking part in a demonstration outside the building.

Coillte official Donal Murphy said he was made aware in 2018 of chain-saw activity in a Coillte-owned forest outside Kealkill.

He met Garda Fintan Coffey at the scene Garda Coffey said, a short time later, he saw a green Toyota Starlet car approaching from the forest and, when it stopped, Jones got out.

The garda said her clothing was covered in saw dust and a chain saw was later spotted in her car.

Garda Coffey said Jones confirmed at the scene that she had been felling spruce in the forest.

In a subsequent garda interview, she said she had been acting to protect her local environment and to promote bio-diversity

In evidence, Jones described herself as “an Earth Protector.”

A native of Wales, she moved to Ireland in 1987 and lived in a small cottage outside Kealkill.

She claimed the local landscape and environment had been transformed over the past 32 years with Coillte’s planting of thousands of acres of Sitka Spruce forests, a non-native species.

“I was shocked, outraged and appalled,” she said.

Jones said she had also planted almost 100 native Irish trees herself in the Kealkill forest including oak, birch, roan and hazel.

Some of these were grown in her own cottage nursery from acorns and seedlings.

Jones said the vast spruce forest was also threatening the local environment – with spruce needles gradually making the soil and water more acidic.

In contrast, she said a mix of native trees help maintain a proper balance of nature and waterways.

Jones said she was very concerned about possible pesticide run-off entering the groundwater and thereby her water well.

However, Coillte insisted it was a mature ‘free grown forest’ with no use of chemicals.

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Jones said that she was just trying to protect the environment.

“I am concerned about the type of environment we are leaving for future generations,” she said.

“I am a conscientious protector. We are here to protect the earth from danger and to work for biodiversity.”

“I am not a criminal. I was acting to protect the ecology and the environment.”

She insisted she wanted Coillte to plant more native tree species.

“I apologise if I have caused upset to (any) Coillte employees. But this was not take-take. I have done this with the best intentions.”

About the author:

Olivia Kelleher

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