Geraldine O’Sullivan of the IFA forestry committee recently made a presentation to COFORD – the Department’s forestry advisery body – on felling licence procedures in EU countries including Belgium, France, Germany and Sweden.
Regulations vary but are largely forest owner-friendly compared with Ireland’s licence system in the following areas:
Unlike Ireland, felling licences are not required in Sweden, Germany and France. In the Walloon region of Belgium, no felling licence is required for thinning or clearfelling less than 3ha for hardwoods and 5ha for softwoods.
Larger areas require a permit which takes a minimum of 30 days. In Flanders, a felling licence is required which takes 60 days for approval.
All countries have a flexible approach towards private forest owners, especially those with small forests. In France, private owners with less than 25ha have the option to submit sustainable forest management plans (FMPs) on a voluntary basis or they can combine to submit a collective plan.
In Germany, the state, forestry corporations and forest owners with over 50ha of woodlands are obliged to produce FMPs.
In Sweden, if a forest area is larger than 0.5ha, the owner is required to notify the forest authority of the intention to fell. If there is no response by six weeks, felling may proceed.
The Swedish forest authority receives 50,000 felling notifications annually, with only a minority questioned. No FMP is required, but it is common practice for forest owners to have plans in place if forests are greater than 15ha.
In Ireland, a felling licence is required – regardless of crop size – for all proposed harvesting sites even if the owner has an FMP.
There is no time limit from the time of application to the Department’s licence approval, which can then be appealed. Delays in receiving licences of up to two years and more are not uncommon.
The EU countries in the IFA study seek an appropriate assessment (AA) or its equivalent but the 15km radius is not applied.
For example, in Germany, an AA is required if the forest is located within a Natura 2000 area, a protected area for conservation law, a central region of a water reserve, or if felling is in a protected forest.
An AA is required in Belgium (Flanders) for a clearfell, while in Wallonia permit approval in Natura 2000 areas will depend on environmental zoning.
In Ireland, the Department screens application regardless of size and ownership – Coillte or private – and only approves licences at AA stage where it deems that there will be no adverse effect on any Natura site within a 15km radius of the felling area. In most cases, a Natura Impact Statement (NIS) costing up to €1,500 is required.
Coillte and forest owners who can afford it are submitting NISs at the outset to fast-track approvals to avoid the dramatic shortfall of felling licences experienced throughout 2020.
Public consultation and appeals
There is no public consultation in Belgium, France and Sweden. In Germany, the public can ask the authorities to review the legality and regularity of logging operations. In Ireland, all applications can be viewed by the public on site notices and on the Department’s Forestry Licence Viewer (FLV) which contains full information of felling site.
There is no formal appeals process in Belgium and France. In Germany, the public can submit an informal complaint to the authorities but there are no prescribed procedures. In Sweden, environmental NGOs can appeal to the courts but not to the forest authority although this approach is rare.
All licence applications are open to appeal in Ireland. Appeals are first made to the Department and where an appellant is dissatisfied with a licence issued by the Department, s/he may appeal to the independent Forestry Appeals Committee (FAC).
It’s clear from Geraldine O’Sullivan’s important study that Ireland’s licence system is unwieldy and grossly unfair compared with France, Belgium, Germany and Sweden.
It makes no allowance for licence time limits, area harvested, wood mobilisation and market demand. It allows little opportunity for forestry companies, timber processors, contractors and others who depend on the forest for their livelihoods, including farmers, to plan their enterprises. It also places Ireland’s forest industry at a competitive disadvantage compared to other EU countries.
Join Ireland’s timber revolution: Sustainable Timber Technology course in TU Dublin
It’s CAO time again and school-leavers interested in sustainable development might check out a new degree course at Technological University Dublin (TU Dublin).
The college’s Sustainable Timber Technology course is designed to explore wood in the bioeconomy and its role in tackling climate change, explains Joseph Little, assistant head, Dublin School of Architecture, TU Dublin.
“Wood is renewable, strong and beautiful, and can be shaped into an endless variety of high-quality products with significantly lower carbon emissions than fossil based materials,” he says.
“New timber innovations are identified regularly with the industry growing in confidence, sophistication and size.”
With so many breakthroughs, Little has announced a new BSc (Hons) Sustainable Timber Technology four-year course.
“There has never been a better time to become a timber technologist,” he says.
“We are at the beginning of an extraordinary revolution in how and why we use timber and technology, how we do business and what we learn.”
He says there are several reasons why students should consider a career in wood. “The harvest from Ireland’s forests is set to double in the next 15 years, and the industry needs a large number of timber technologist graduates to fill a wide variety of roles as employment expands from 12,000 to 20,000 jobs,” he explains.
“Those jobs are in sawmills and other timber processing plants, joinery workshops, craft outlets and in sectors that require skilled craftspeople, quality-assurance technologists, product researchers and innovators, consultants, exporters and policymakers.”
Little is passionate about wood and sees its global re-emergence in construction and other applications as revolutionary.
“Less than 20 years ago, a timber building in Europe of even four storeys was considered remarkable, but the current tallest building of 18 storeys is expected to be outstripped within a year using engineered wood such as cross-laminated timber (CLT),” he says.
But, he emphasises that wood innovation doesn’t stop at construction. “Scientists are currently researching the use of timber residue for biofuel, bioplastics, medical equipment, and even clothing and food in this wood revolution.”
Theory and skills
Commencing in September 2021, this immersive, full-time course has a mix of theoretical and skills-based modules. Cross-sectoral skills such as critical thinking, creativity, sustainable management and collaboration are encouraged to support the central course focus on wood science, timber skills and production.
For further information, visit tudublin.ie.