Minister of State Pippa Hackett has announced the four chairpersons of the Project Woodland working groups, following a meeting with the project board, chaired by Brendan Gleeson. The board oversees the delivery of Jo O’Hara’s Implementation of the Mackinnon Report.
Stressing the need for urgency, the minister said: “The project board agreed that the working groups should convene immediately to agree deliverables and project milestones.”
The working groups examine key issues identified by O’Hara. The groups will be chaired by: Michael Cantwell, former Director of Enterprise Ireland, Dr Matt Crowe, former director, EPA, Professor Thia Hennessy, chair of Agri-Food Economics, Cork University Business School and Michael Layde, former assistant secretary general, Department of the Environment.
The project board agreed that the working groups should convene immediately to agree deliverables and project milestones
There has been a rethink on the appointment of a part-time Department project manager following opposition by stakeholders, including Vincent Nally, chair of the IFA forestry group, and an editorial in the Irish Farmers Journal which stated that a full-time external approach was needed to reflect the workload involved and the need for transparency.
When asked about this at an IFA webinar last week, Minister Hackett said the project board “agreed on the specification for a dedicated project management resource to be appointed to support the project.” In a press release prior to the webinar, she stressed the need “for clear and transparent communications with the full spectrum of stakeholders that will deliver a communication strategy to ensure that citizens are fully informed on progress and on a wide range of forestry issues.”
Jo O’Hara also stressed the need for a dedicated management approach that had “clear accountability and reporting”. It was clear that the part-time nature of the post, as proposed, was not what she had envisaged in her report. O’Hara’s presentation at the webinar received a positive reaction from many speakers among the 246 attendees. She explored common themes that had emerged during her conversations with stakeholders as she compiled her report.
These included lack of confidence and trust, as well as land availability and suitability.
WEPG will alleviate the ongoing delays in the Department’s ecology section, which in turn will significantly improve the conversion rate from approval to planting
She also indentified the need for greater silvicultural variety, including the need to explore species mixtures and continuous cover forestry (CCF). Forest business viability, identifying who is responsible for decision making and the need to improve internal and external communications were among her other themes.
She discussed the “big questions on having a timeline for completion and restoring trust.” Her list of “must haves” included a shared national vision for the sector, dealing with the forestry licence backlog, clarity on regulatory boundaries and a fit-for-purpose and more efficient Department.
Chaired by IFA president Tim Cullinan, the licence backlog dominated the Q&A at the webinar, as well as the lack of trust between forest owners and the Department.
When asked by Tim Cullinan about providing a timeline for delivering forestry licences, Minister Hackett said she couldn’t deliver a date, but said Project Woodland had prioritised the licence issue. A number of speakers raised the need for a Woodland Environmental Planning Grant (WEPG).
“This would cover the Natura Impact Statement (NIS) cost and is now essential if confidence is to be restored among farmers and practitioners,” said Teige Ryan, None-so-Hardy Nurseries.
A number of forest owners expressed dissatisfaction with the reconstitution and underplanting scheme (RUS)
“WEPG will alleviate the ongoing delays in the Department’s ecology section, which in turn will significantly improve the conversion rate from approval to planting. Recouping the initial NIS costs after planting would mean only committed participants would proceed.”
While it wasn’t on the meeting agenda, a number of forest owners expressed dissatisfaction with the reconstitution and underplanting scheme (RUS), which was “totally inadequate to compensate forest owners with ash dieback.”
Forestry consultants maintain there is no legal requirement to display the forest owner’s name and signature on signage prior to harvesting.
When a forest owner receives a felling licence, there is a requirement by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to erect a sign at the forest property “not less than seven days prior to the commencement of harvesting operations.”
The sign requires detailed information about the harvested area, which is acceptable “but it also insists on the name and signature of the licensee, which is an invasion of privacy,” maintains Dermot Houlihan, chair of the Association of Irish Forestry Consultants (AIFC). The Department maintains that this is a requirement under Section 7 of the Forestry Act 2014.
“There is no legal requirement in the Act that the name of the person or signature be displayed on these public notices,” says Mr Houlihan.
“The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is in breach of the data protection legislation by insisting on this requirement.”
There is no legal requirement in the Act that the name of the person or signature be displayed on these public notices
He says all the necessary information has been made available during the application period, when the public can appeal the process or the granting of the licence.
“The sole purpose of the notice after the licence is granted is to inform the public that a tree felling licence has been obtained and that the felling operation is being carried out in accordance with the terms of the licence,” he claims.
“The legislation underpinning the site notice requires the displaying of the serial number of the licence granted and how information on the licence can be obtained from the Department. We have encountered many cases where elderly land owners feel threatened and exposed by being compelled to put their names on public view, often close to their own homes.”
If this matter is not resolved, AIFC will make a submission to the Data Protection Commissioner
He says that where a company owns the forest, there is no onus to provide an address which “could be hundreds of kilometres away.”
Legal advice obtained by the AIFC states that “by compelling forest owners to provide their names, the Department is in breach of data protection legislation, as there is no legal basis or purpose to demand disclosure of such protected personal data,” maintains Houlihan.
“The matter can be readily resolved by the Minister amending what is required on the notice to conform with the Forestry Act 2014.
“If this matter is not resolved, AIFC will make a submission to the Data Protection Commissioner to obtain a ruling on the validity and legality of placing the name of licensees on notices.”
All you need to know about agroforestry
Jim McAdam is delivering this year's Augustine Henry Lecture on Thursday 25 March at 3.00pm. Organised by the Society of Irish Foresters, this year's topic is "Agroforestry - trees on farms and carbon neutral livestock systems.” Honorary Professor at Queen's University Belfast, Jim McAdam has been involved in agroforestry in Northern Ireland since 1989.
His address will have special significance for Irish farmers, as the agricultural industry is under pressure to deliver more carbon-neutral climate-resilient livestock systems. Email email@example.com for further information on how to register, before close of business on Monday 22 March.
Wood Awards Ireland winners announced
Wood Awards Ireland 2020 will be announced at a webinar on 26 March at 12.00am. In addition to the overall winner, the awards feature category winners in construction – large and small buildings – renovation and conservation, furniture, research, craft and a special student award.
Wood Awards Ireland is open to registered architects, engineers, designers and other practitioners who incorporate wood as the inherent medium of their projects. Register at https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/7695676909725083148 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for details before 6.00pm, 24 March.
Organised by the Wood Marketing Federation and Forest Industries Ireland, the awards will feature interviews with winners conducted by Ciaran O'Connor, State Architects and RIAI president.