#Open journalism No news is bad news

Your contributions will help us continue to deliver the stories that are important to you

Support The Journal
Dublin: 1°C Sunday 28 November 2021

Woman who cut down spruce trees in Coillte forest and replaced them with native trees is spared jail

The jury found the 61-year-old guilty of a second charge of dishonestly appropriating felled spruce wood.

Image: Gary O' Neill

A WEST CORK woman who admitted cutting down or killing 500 Sitka Spruce trees in a Coillte forest has vowed to desist from such activity after being warned that she faced a prison sentence.

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

After deliberating for thirty minutes the jury found the 61-year-old guilty of a second charge of dishonestly appropriating felled spruce wood from Kealkill, Co Cork between 1 November 2018 and 4 December 2018 to the value of €500.

Addressing the jury prior to their deliberations the Judge said that Jones had no right of foraging under any ancient law despite her claims to the contrary.

After the jury delivered their verdict and were excused from further service the Judge said that Jones described herself as a “conscientious objector” but she had a “chainsaw in one hand and a burning log in the other.”

He warned her barrister Peter O’Flynn to discuss with his client whether she was prepared to give up such activity. He indicated that if Jones refused to do so there would be penal consequences.

Returning to court in the afternoon Sioned Jones said she was prepared 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.”

Judge O’Donnabhain said the court couldn’t be used as a “political platform.”

‘Earth protector’ 

The court heard of Jones 18 previous convictions which were mainly for minor drug possession.

O’Flynn said that his client had always lived a “frugal” and “alternative “ lifestyle.

Judge Donnabhain said “we heard all about Mother Earth” but insisted that image didn’t tie in with someone using a chainsaw and cutting trees.

The Judge asked the barrister to explain how Jones was “saving the world” with a chainsaw.

“I am not a platform for idle political engagement.”

Sentencing in the case was adjourned until 30 October.

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 in court 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 sawdust 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.”

irish-state-owned-forestry-company-coillte-takes-grandmother-to-court-for-cutting-down-hundreds-of-spruce-trees Source: Gary O' Neill

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.

Ms 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.

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.”

Our colleagues at Noteworthy want to investigate the impact Sitka spruce is having on the Irish ecosystem and whether environmental concerns are justified. Read more about the proposal, and how you can support it, here.

About the author:

Olivia Kelleher

Read next: