Minister of State Pippa Hackett has introduced an amendment to the Forestry Act 2014.
The objective is to increase native tree planting by removing the requirement of an afforestation licence for an area not less than 0.1ha and not greater than 1ha.
It also covers an area of not less than 0.1ha that is not greater than 20m wide.
Trees need to be native but only one species is mentioned by name – Scots pine – which will be limited to “not more than 25%” of the area to be planted.
Stakeholders agree that the amendment has merit but expressed reservations about certain aspects, especially a lack of consultation.
Representatives of the IFA, Society of Irish Foresters (SIF), Forest Industries Ireland (FII), Woodlands of Ireland, Social, Economic Environmental Forestry Association of Ireland (SEEFA), Irish Timber Growers Association (ITGA), Tree Council of Ireland, Association of Irish Forestry Consultants (AIFC) and Irish Forest Owners said there was no advance consultation.
There is currently no detail on how the planting of native trees is to be undertaken and this is of great concern to the sector
“There is merit in the amendment but this legislative change has been moved without any consultation whatsoever,” said Teige Ryan, chair of SEEFA.
“There is currently no detail on how the planting of native trees is to be undertaken and this is of great concern to the sector.
“Under no circumstances should this effort at amending legislation take away resources or efforts to integrate afforestation into the next CAP.”
Joe Gowran, CEO of Woodlands of Ireland, said the amendment sounds good in theory but, in practice, may be problematic if standards are not achieved such as long-term maintenance.
He questioned how it will fit in with other planting initiatives “including the existing Native Woodland Scheme (NWS) and the proposed Scenario 6 NWS”.
Pat O’Sullivan, technical director of the SIF, said it was crucial that there would be an input by foresters in all native woodland schemes to ensure their biodiversity and climate change mitigation benefits.
“These plantations will play little or no role in displacing fossil based materials, but it is essential that they maximise their carbon sequestration benefits,” he said.
“The principle of the ‘right trees in the right places’ still applies regardless of the size of new plantations. For example, on suitable mineral sites Scots pine could – and should – be planted on at least 70% of the site while on heavy alkaline soils it shouldn’t be planted at all.
Why limit the area to 1ha when 5ha is common in other countries?
“A blanket limit of Scots pine to 25% of the area planted displays an anti-conifer bias and worse, silvicultural ignorance. It is clear that there was no private forester input to an amendment which has merit but could have been greatly improved.”
Éamonn Ó Curraoin, AIFC, asked: “Why limit the area to 1ha when 5ha is common in other countries?”
Marina Conway, Western Forestry Co-op welcomed the planting of native trees and sees merit in the removal of the licensing process.
“However, it is imperative that silvicultural expertise is central to any new small-scale planting of native species so that the right tree is planted in the right place for the right reasons,” she said.
While the licence removal will free up small areas of farms for planting, it is unlikely to lead to carte blanche small-scale afforestation.
“The development of a scheme will only be undertaken following the completion of the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) and Appropriate Assessment (AA), subject to the findings of both assessments,” said Minister Hackett.
The following are some comments made by TDs during the debate when the forestry amendment was moved with an amendment to the Animal Health and Welfare Bill 2021 on 15 December.
A number of crucial but unresolved issues dominated forestry in 2021. Project Woodland, which was established last February has made progress but considering that it was established as a result of the Mackinnon review over two years ago, stakeholders maintain it should be brought to a conclusion by now.
Mackinnon was originally appointed to address afforestation as his report had reenergised the Scottish planting programme. Many stakeholders believe that the project has lost sight of this core objective.
Felling licences have improved throughout the year, especially for Coillte. The company achieved its felling licence quota for 2021 and almost all 2022.
Roading licence approvals were solid and shouldn’t be a major issue for Coillte. Its forests are far more mature than the private sector and so should be well roaded – the company has carried out annual average afforestation of only 100ha since 2001.
Private felling licences need to be further improved but resources are badly needed to resurrect afforestation.
Planting licences will deliver a programme of less than 2,400ha, the lowest since 1947. Promotion of farm forestry remains a priority as only an estimated 1,000ha was planted by farmers in 2020.
Timber prices increased to historically high levels during the year but fell from November as Swedish imports increased
Timber price and market information was unavailable throughout the year. The compilation of market information by the Department on timber imports and exports, sawmill and wood-based panel data, as well as wood energy and related information has been absent since 2018.
Timber prices increased to historically high levels during the year but fell from November as Swedish imports increased.
Reliable information on log prices is non-existent as Coillte withdrew its wood price quarterly data for all 2021 while insufficient information was cited as the reason why private prices were unavailable.
The IFA has called for an independent price index whereby Coillte and private sales data would be combined and issued bimonthly on a confidential basis.
The Climate Action Plan acknowledged afforestation as “the single largest land-based climate change mitigation measure available to Ireland”.
However, the measures proposed in the plan “lack imagination and innovation, and represent a business-as-usual approach which will not deliver viable annual afforestation programmes,” according to a report commissioned by the Society of Irish Foresters (SIF). Proposals by SIF included:
The report advocated the establishment of an independent forestry development agency to “drive afforestation and development of the sector”.
The rise of SEEFA
The Social, Economic Environmental Forestry Association (SEEFA) was established during the year. It conducted a forceful promotional and lobbying campaign aimed at the media and politicians.
SEEFA received national media coverage in November when over 100 of its supporters picketed Dáil Éireann demanding full implementation of the Mackinnon report within a defined timeframe as well as maximum timelines for every licence application and full integration of afforestation in CAP.
SEEFA also called for the establishment of an independent forestry development agency to promote and represent the sector as forestry is the only natural resource without such an agency.
The year ends with ash dieback as it has for the last two decades. Woodland owners with ash continue to campaign for compensation. Jackie Cahill, chair of the Oireachtas committee, provided a solution during the year when he told Department officials “it would only be natural justice if [ash owners] again had access to the forestry premium”.