A massive shortfall of approximately 120,000t of logs per annum has been caused by the Department’s inability to process felling licences and is costing farmers almost €1m per month in lost revenues, according to Forest Industries Ireland (FII).

Zero progress has been made on afforestation, with less than 10 licences issuing each week and a two-year waiting list, said the FII.

The Department of Agriculture recently committed to issuing 4,500 licences this year, but FII said it is now clear that target will be missed, with 5,000 applications still in backlog.

“The single biggest blockage in getting farmers to plant trees is the delay with licences - there is too much uncertainty and bureaucracy for them,” said FII.

FII is adamant that the Climate Action Plan is completely undermined if we don’t see a huge increase in new planting.

Carbon stores

"The scientific fact is that our forests store over 300 million tonnes of carbon and currently absorb millions more tonnes of carbon dioxide every year.

"That alone is offsetting the emissions from 70% of our cars and it is why the whole world is calling for the planting of more trees in the fight against the climate change."

FII director Mark McAuley commented: “Here in Ireland, we are being side-tracked by a tangential debate about planting ‘too many’ conifers.”

McAuley said that conifers make sense, they give the world the timber it needs to build sustainable buildings, grow quickly, absorb CO2 fast and farmers can make a living from conifers.

“You can strive for the planting of more oak and beech and native woodlands, but most farmers can’t afford to do that. What they need is a return from their land,” he insisted.

“We should ring-fence significant Government funding and leverage various financial incentives to make native woodlands economically viable.

“We need a sensible approach that delivers all kinds of forests, for all the various benefits they bring,” he concluded.