DEAR SIR: Minister Pippa Hackett has recently announced the publication of the forestry statistics for Ireland 2022, compiled by the Department of Agriculture.
At its launch, she claimed that “overall, the national forest estate is still expanding and has now reached 11.6% of Ireland’s total land area, or 808,848ha”.
She further asserts that “this expansion in the total forest area is as a result of direct afforestation and also the natural expansion of semi-natural forests”.
Is this creative accounting? By 2017, there were 700,020ha under trees in Ireland.
According to Government policy, we should have been afforesting at a rate of 8,000ha a year.
Therefore, since then and by the end of 2021, we should have planted an extra 32,000ha of land.
But with the Department presiding over a licensing crisis, largely of its making, the recorded amount of new forest planted was 12,025ha, some 20,000ha short of target.
These statistics claim that we have 39,000ha more under trees in 2022 in comparison to 2017.
But if one does the simple maths, there are 26,000ha of ash plantations dead and dying and only 1,000 of those replanted, there are thousands of hectares of ash dead in old established woodland and hedgerows.
It is well established that the amount of reforestation after clearfelling is not keeping pace with trees being harvested.
Therefore, the number of hectares of live trees growing in Ireland has to be less than were growing in 2017.
Some may like to believe that our semi-natural forests are expanding at a phenomenal rate.
Minister Hackett appears to claim that this expansion covers twice as much land area as that planted in afforestation.
To reach our national policy of 18% land cover under trees, we need to [plant] an extra 500,000ha of land growing trees.
If we are to believe these statistics, and the claimed rate of natural expansion, maybe it would make sense to let the Department of Agriculture continue to mismanage forestry policy, as it has been doing! We can rest assured that natural expansion of our semi-natural forests will do the job for us.
However, even if what they claim is true, at this rate it will take 51 years.
I am concerned that statistics are being used to hide the truth, which is that forestry is in decline and we need to fix the cause immediately instead of claiming everything is rosy in the garden!