State-owned forests have become the go-to spot for outdoor recreational pursuits since the pandemic.
Coillte, the State’s forestry company, said the number of visitors to its recreational forests has exploded since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic last spring.
And some of the more popular forest destinations, including the Dublin Mountains, Rossmore Forest Park, in Co Monaghan, and the Donadea Forest Park, in Co Kildare, have seen a doubling or tripling of its visitor numbers since the start of the pandemic.
Using infra-red heat sensors to measure visitor traffic, Coillte estimates there were 2.2 million visits to its top 50 forests since March 2020, an increase of 38pc.
Popular forests, like Ticknock and Tibradden and the Hellfire Club in the Dublin Mountains have seen a stampede of visitors since Covid restrictions were introduced last February, with a doubling of visitors from 30,041 to 60,816 in December.
Rossmore has also seen a doubling of visitors from 10,399 in February 2020 to 24,713 in December, while the number of visitors to Donadea has tripled from just 4,773 a year ago to 14,335 in December.
And even the current 5km travel restrictions haven’t stopped people from venturing within their local areas to enjoy a walk in the woods, according to Coillte’s Head of Recreation, Daithi de Forge.
“By and large, we’re seeing because of the limited travel, everyone is looking for what’s local,” he told the Irish Independent.
“There were some forests near where I live that I wasn’t even aware of,” he said.
And because Coillte owns more than 6,000 forests around Ireland, there may be a woodland or forest in your local area that you didn’t even know about, he added.
The Coillte website reveals the locations of more than 260 recreational forests on an interactive map, while the Ordnance Survey’s Discovery map also shows forests around the country.
As more and more people are discovering the mental and physical benefits of a recreational walk in the woods, people are becoming more adept at preparing properly for their hikes, including bringing the right clothing and footwear, emergency food and other supplies in the event they become lost or injured while out.
But even for beginners, a walk in the woods doesn’t have to be daunting, he added. “If you’re not accustomed to hiking, just start off small.”
Most of the managed forests have marked trails and signage so people know where they’re heading. Aside from the obvious benefits of getting out in the fresh air, it’s also free, he added.