There have been calls for urgent action from the Minister of State with responsibility for forestry Pippa Hackett to address the ongoing forest licensing situation, with over 4,500 licences awaiting approval.
The Irish Farmers Association (IFA) and Forest Industries Ireland (FII) said action is needed now if there is to be any hope of revitalising farmer interest in forestry.
The two groups said the plan to address the backlog published by the Department of Agriculture in June 2020 has failed to meet its targets, with less than 50% of the target output achieved in January.
The IFA and FII have made the following calls for action:1. There must be confidence that all licences (afforestation, forest roads and felling) will issue in a timely manner. Farmers cannot be expected to wait two years for a licence to manage or fell their crop, nor will they be interested in a process that takes months to deliver an afforestation licence.2. Under the new licensing regime, the cost of planting or managing forests at farm scale is no longer viable. A cost-based planning support grant, as referenced in the Mackinnon report, must be introduced to assist with the increased costs and requirements associated with applying for a licence. 3. Jo O’Hara, former chief executive of Scottish Forestry, has been appointed by Minister Hackett to make recommendations on improving the administration of forestry in Ireland. A full-time project manager should be appointed to implement her recommendations. 4. All applications accompanied by a natura impact statement (NIS) should be dealt with within eight weeks. 5. The Forestry Act needs to be amended to remove management operations such as road construction and thinning from the licencing system. The licencing of these operations can be covered by a forest management plan that satisfies all regulatory requirements. 6. In 2020, fewer than 2,500ha of new forests were established – this is the lowest figure in decades and continues a downward trend. Requirements under the forestry schemes must be made more farmer friendly if progress is to be made towards the target of 8,000ha of afforestation per annum.7. There is plenty of land available for afforestation in Ireland that has the productive capacity to grow timber, which is currently restricted. If there is to be an increase in forest cover, farmers must be allowed to plant available land including some ‘unenclosed land’ and other farmland currently restricted.
Minister’s position on unenclosed forestry rejected
Letter: forestry crisis in Ireland