During 2020, just 2,434ha of new forests were created, a decline of 1,015ha on 2019 figures and significantly less than the 8,290ha target, Forest Statistics Ireland 2021 has shown.

Cork had the highest afforestation area at 293ha followed by Kerry at 289ha.

Nationally, conifer species are the dominant, representing 71% of forest area while broadleaved species accounted for 29%.

The proportion of broadleaves in new forests created during 2020 is 34%, an increase of 9% over the area established in 2019.

In 2020, total expenditure under the Forestry Programme was €79.2m which includes afforestation grants, annual premium payments and grants for forest road infrastructure.

Decreasing trend

Native Woodlands established as part of the afforestation scheme in 2020 represented 19% of the total area, an increase of 10% over the area established in 2019.

The construction of nearly 100km of private forest roads was funded during 2020. Felling licences were issued during 2020, for the thinning of 7,605 ha and the clearfelling of 11,870ha.

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture Pippa Hackett said the decreasing trend in the area being afforested annually is something that needs to be addressed.

“New forestry is essential to meeting not only our economic objectives but also our climate change targets and our aims in terms of enhancing biodiversity,” she said.

“The immediate priority is to address the current licencing difficulties and deliver on the objectives set out in Project Woodland.

“My department is also examining ways of promoting tree planting on farms on a smaller scale than our existing afforestation schemes for inclusion in the next CAP under agri-environment schemes.”