Annual planting by farmers has fallen from 7,935ha in 2010 to 1,292ha last year (Figure 1). While total afforestation has fallen from 8,315ha to 3,550ha in the same period, the drop in planting by farmers has been far more dramatic, as non-farmer afforestation continues to increase.

While farmers planted an average of 95% of all new forests between 2010 and 2014, this changed in 2015 when 904ha were planted by non-farmers.

Afforestation by non-farmers has continued to increase and outperformed farmer planting in 2018 and 2019. Last year, farmers planted only 36% of the afforestation programme in Ireland. This lack of farmer confidence in forestry is due to a number of factors.


There is little doubt that removing the premium differential between farmers and non-farmers acted as an incentive for investors to purchase and plant land. However, it doesn’t fully explain the near-collapse of the farmer afforestation programme, although there is some evidence that farmers are selling land to investors rather than planting themselves, especially where forestry is contentious.

The IFA believes the reduction of the premium period from 20 to 15 years has contributed, especially for long-rotation broadleaf forestry. Both the IFA and Teagasc have identified the legal requirement to replant as a barrier to afforestation. The Department’s Forest land availability implementation group report said this could be solved without risking deforestation, as relaxation of the replanting obligation “would reassure people and may positively impact on forested land values”.


One of the most detrimental changes in afforestation has been the major fall in farmer planting in Munster (Table 1). This is due to restrictions on planting in hen harrier designated areas, while planting unenclosed marginal land, suitable for forestry, has practically ceased.

The virtual banning of unenclosed productive forestry land by the Department has coincided with the dramatic decline in afforestation, especially in Munster, and has led to a geographically imbalanced afforestation programme. From 2010 to 2018, Munster’s share of the afforestation programme has fallen from 44% to 28%, as planting dropped from 3,621ha to 1,143ha. Planting has shifted from Munster to counties such as Leitrim, Roscommon, Sligo and Cavan where unenclosed land is not a major issue.

Afforestation in these counties was 861ha in 2010 or 10% of the annual programme, while 1,158ha were planted in 2018 or 29% of the national afforestastion programme.

Farmers have been voting with their feet on afforestation over the past five years

The sharp rise in appeals against afforestation has been a major factor. Farmers who wish to plant, expect a licence within months, but delays of over a year are not unusual before licences are issued by the Department. These are then subject to appeal which either further delays or cancels licence approvals.

The recent changes to legislation will help, but farmers will be slow to subject themselves to costly, time-consuming applications.

Farmers have been voting with their feet on afforestation over the past five years. It is interesting to note since December last year, of the 500 licences that have been appealed, only 72 were for afforestation.

This is not because would-be appellants have a more benign view of afforestation, but because afforestation applications have dropped significantly. Also, 1,122 afforestation applications, in the system up until September, are awaiting approval by the Department.

Detailed information

The recent Forestry Licence Viewer (FLV), which requires detailed information on applicants’ plans, will be a further disincentive to farmers, but not necessarily to investors, who have a greater degree of anonymity.

The Government’s annual afforestation target of 8,000ha, with farmers planting at least 7,000ha, has been achieved in the past when the forestry programme was regarded as an equal State-private partnership. This partnership has been questioned by forest owners, with 4,700 afforestation, felling and roading licence applications still in the system.

Minister Pippa Hackett recently said she looked forward to “working with all stakeholders to build a new model for forestry in Ireland which will deliver for everyone”.

As a forest owner, she will surely know the most important stakeholders are the ones who establish and manage forests

The place to begin the conversation is with farmers who wish to plant marginal land suitable for forestry, but have lost interest in a system that discourages rather than encourages afforestation. She might also discuss her vision of forestry with the farmers who planted 30% of the afforestation programme, with mainly native broadleaves between 2000 and 2012. These include the 300 farmers and landowners who are still awaiting approvals to salvage what’s left of their diseased ash crops under the inadequate ash reconstitution and underplanting scheme (RUS). As a forest owner, she will surely know the most important stakeholders are the ones who establish and manage forests.

Minister Hackett launches public portal for forestry licensing

Minister of State Pippa Hackett has announced the launch of a new public portal for forestry licensing. Known as the Forestry Licence Viewer (FLV), “it will provide free online access for the public to view forestry licence applications decisions,” she said.

“This portal will provide members of the public with easier online access to forestry licence applications and will in time provide a repository of information on forestry licences, both applications and decisions.”

Minister Hackett was speaking at the launch of the first of three phases of the FLV. “[This] will show high-level site information for all applications since 1 January 2018 and the status of those applications. Phase 2 will be released shortly and will show application documentation on applications received from the date this phase goes live, including site assessments, reports and decisions. Phase 3 is planned for early 2021 and will provide an online tool to make a submission on an application.”

Growers’ reservations

Donal Whelan said the Irish Timber Growers Association (ITGA) supported the Minister in the amendment to the Forestry Act, the Forestry (Misc Provisions) Act 2020, but has expressed serious reservations about the extent of information disclosed in the FLV.

“While stakeholder consultation is a legal requirement of the forestry licensing process, ITGA has real concerns about the possibility of names and addresses of applicants for forestry licences being made available on such a public platform,” said the ITGA technical director.

This repeated intrusion in the privacy of farmers and other landowners highlights the importance of implementing Mackinnon’s proposal

“While the townland and area may be relevant for stakeholder consultation in relation to licence applications, as has been provided heretofore, ITGA is concerned that making such personal contact information available publicly on the FLV may discourage farmers from considering afforestation.”

Pat O’Sullivan, technical director of the Society of Irish Foresters, said members were extremely uneasy about making personal information available when licence applications are required for afforestation, forest road construction and felling. “This repeated intrusion in the privacy of farmers and other landowners highlights the importance of implementing Mackinnon’s proposal to consider the introduction of a single consent covering afforestation, roading, management and felling,” he said.