The Cabinet has approved a plan aimed at increasing the planting of native trees.
The plan, which will require legislative changes to the Forestry Act 2014, will remove the requirement for an afforestation licence for areas up to 1ha and allow increased planting of small areas of woodland at wetlands adjacent to rivers and streams.
The legislative amendment is hoped to enable the Department Agriculture to increase native tree planting in line with the Programme for Government and address ongoing afforestation licensing backlogs.
The legislative changes to the Forestry Act 2014 will have to be passed by the Dáil.
Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture Pippa Hackett said: “These new arrangements will enable my department to further incentivise the planting of native tree species which will contribute to Ireland’s targets, including climate change, biodiversity, habitats and water quality.
“My department will consult with industry stakeholders to ensure that the schemes and measures developed will complement existing tree-planting schemes.”
Minister Hackett highlighted that the requirement to comply with environmental law is not undermined by making the licensing change as all works are controlled by regulation through a departmental scheme.
The Offaly farmer explained that the development of such a scheme will be undertaken following the completion of the strategic environmental assessment and further appropriate assessment.
“Eligibility criteria will be incorporated into the scheme which will ensure that all tree planting works are undertaken in a legally compliant and sustainable manner.
“I am confident that these changes will be particularly important in terms of creating new native woodlands.”
Minister Hackett said the changes will also create new undisturbed water setbacks which can be used to deliver meaningful ecosystem services that protect and enhance water quality and aquatic ecosystems.
“The creation of these permanent semi-natural landscape features alongside streams, rivers and lakes will protect and enhance water quality and aquatic habitats into the future.”
She said she will engage with forestry stakeholders to ensure that existing tree planting measures are complementary to the proposed changes.