DEAR SIR: Irish Forest Owners (IFO) represents a number of primary producer groups nationally.

We wish to express the increasing frustrations of our members with the forest licensing debacle, which continues to negatively impact the ability of farmers to manage their woodlands.

This regulatory mess has also resulted in the current crisis in afforestation rates and will have very serious consequences for Ireland’s climate change strategy.

The current afforestation rate has fallen to less than 10% of the rates common in the mid-1990s. We are in fact creating new forests at a rate lower than at any time in the last 70 years. The target set for afforestation in Ireland’s climate strategy is 8,000ha/pa.

This target is too low to mitigate agricultural emissions in the manner intended but what is more concerning is that the Department of Agriculture and Government are perfectly aware that we will not meet even half of these very unambitious targets anytime soon.

Despite this serious under-performance, there is a stubborn unwillingness to make the straightforward policy changes necessary to address the current crisis.

Incredibly, even more barriers have been provided by a recent statutory instrument that has resulted in another month of virtually no licences being issued.

Project Woodland is a very welcome step in the right direction and will, we hope, result in many necessary changes to current structures and regulations. However, by its nature, it is a long-term project and, frankly, it would be irresponsible to simply await its outcome.

Our members need licences and are still encountering huge delays. In once again highlighting the urgent and immediate need for change in the regulatory framework, we wish to also draw attention to the current unacceptable practice of prioritising licence applications from larger companies over those from smaller private forest owners. This is directly impacting the ability of farmers to maximise the value of their crop and, in particular, the willingness of landowners to even consider afforestation.

The individual forest owner groups represented by the IFO can all attest to the difficulties involved in promoting forestry at local level. With this in mind, we call on the ministers responsible for forestry, Charlie McConalogue and Pippa Hackett and the Irish Government to properly support farm forestry and initiate regulatory changes to remove management operations from the licensing quagmire that has been created.