The 2017 year-end Forestry Monthly Report (FMR) indicates that performance for afforestation is well down, while forest roading is the highest recorded since 2011 (Table 1).

The upward trend in felling licence applications and approvals has been halted compared with 2016, which was admittedly an exceptionally good year.

FMRs issued by the Forest Service are important indicators of performance in the forestry sector. Annual returns for private afforestation, forest roading, and private and Coillte felling licences for the period 2010 to 2017


Afforestation is the area of most concern as it has fallen to 5,536ha compared with 6,500ha in 2016, which was below the planned planting programme of over 7,000ha. Form 1 submissions, which are the first expression of interest in planting by farmers and other landowners, have also decreased.

The Forest Service provides technical approval for over 80% of Form 1s eventually but only half of these are planted. There are many reasons for this high drop-out rate. Owners change their minds due to a variety of factors including delays in receiving approvals.

However, it is accepted that making a decision to plant is a major one despite the attractive premium payments and revenue so some owners simply need more time.

Harvesting roads

Forest road construction demonstrates active forest management, as well as being a good indicator of planned timber harvesting. Last year, 91km of harvesting roads were constructed which is the highest since 2011 when 116km of roads were constructed.

Claims by foresters and forestry companies that timber mobility has been severely hampered due to a lack of sufficient roading are being addressed, but there is still room for improvement as Form 1s or road grant applications during 2017 amounted to 189km. The recent increases in road density of 20m to 25m/ha, announced by Minister of State for Food, Forestry and Horticulture Andrew Doyle, should also encourage road construction and increase wood mobilisation.

Felling licences

While forest roading is a tangible expression of the forest owner to harvest, felling licence application is the best indicator of short-term timber mobility.

Applications for thinning licences have increased gradually in recent years from 14,030ha in 2010 to 16,143ha last year with 20,116ha in 2016, which was exceptionally high. Allowing for this peak, the trend is up – just.

However, the excellent ratio of licences issued to applications achieved during 2013 and 2014 has not been maintained as an annual average of 3,500ha of thinning applications are awaiting approvals from 2015 to 2017.

The upward trend of clearfell licence applications was maintained in 2017, allowing for the exceptional number of applications in 2014 as a result of windthrow caused by Storm Darwin. Applications were made for 2,294ha of clearfell licences in 2017. Only 1,337ha were issued, representing a shortfall of almost 1,000ha which forestry companies and timber processors regard as excessive.

While it is understandable that clearfell approvals have to be inspected, thinning should be considered as good forest management practice. This would seem to be the case with Coillte licence applications where, conversely, both thinning and clearfell licence approvals are greater than applications.

Annual licence applications and approvals for Coillte are difficult to evaluate as block applications often straddle a number of years.

While this may explain the application-approval anomaly, it is clear when licence trends are analysed over the past eight years, there is no delay by the Forest Service in issuing licences for Coillte thinnings and clearfells. A similar approach to the private sector would help to increase wood mobilisation as well as levelling the playing pitch between Coillte and private forest owners – mainly farmers.