The Review of Approval Processes for Afforestation commissioned by Andrew Doyle, Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has received a welcome from forestry stakeholders.
The review was carried out by Jim MacKinnon, CBE, former senior planner with the Scottish government. “Mr MacKinnon examined the process for approving afforestation proposals and the linked issues for other forestry-related operations,” said Minister Doyle.
Stakeholders welcomed the recommendations, including the payment of a fee for submissions on afforestation and felling licences.
But that proposal has already run into trouble as the Department has failed to introduce “an amendment to the Agriculture Appeals Act that would have introduced a fee for appealing forestry planning”, as pointed out in last week’s Irish Farmers Journal.
Notwithstanding this, Minister Doyle is prepared to implement the review, which is “now a priority”, he said. “I propose to publish a detailed implementation plan early in January next after discussions with stakeholders on the forestry programme implementation group.”
My first impression is that he describes the issues well and understands them
“The Irish Timber Growers Association (ITGA) calls for swift implementation of the review and its proposals which we will support, especially the core recommendation to address ongoing improvement of licensing processes,” said Donal Whelan of the ITGA.
“We also support the recommendation to prepare a forestry strategy for Ireland and we look forward to playing our part in preparing such a strategy.
“My first impression is that he describes the issues well and understands them,” said Dr Gerhardt Gallagher, co-author of the Department report Land Availability for Afforestation and forestry consultant.
“Mr MacKinnon has put into a compact review what we’ve been saying for years, but also introduces a few surprises with some of his views,” said Dr Gallagher.”He feels major political and policy proposals are beyond his remit but still goes some way in approaching them.”
Dr Gallagher welcomed his recommendation to establish a new strategy but this would need an evaluation of previous ones “where they succeeded and failed”, he maintained.
“Mr MacKinnon recommends a realistic planting programme – 8,000ha – and a strong commitment to forestry across departments which is welcome,” he said.
He supports the need for a better Forest Service network within the Department
Regarding addressing objections to planting, he welcomed a submission fee but said: “It’s doubtful if basic legislation can be changed in any realistic time frame [to allow this] but a statuary instruments might work.
“He supports the need for a better Forest Service network within the Department and these could be introduced without significant new resources and could be quickly carried out such as increasing forestry’s profile, renaming the Department to include ‘forestry’ in the title, along with devolving more powers to the minister with the forestry portfolio.”
Regarding other changes, Dr Gallagher said: “MacKinnon may have felt his brief did not include the establishment of a new entity such as an independent forestry development agency which many stakeholders support and which should feature in the proposed review.”
Jim MacKinnon’s review of Scottish afforestation in 2016 prompted him to draw comparisons between both countries.
Scotland’s sluggish planting programme has increased to over 11,000ha and hopes are high that this review will have a similar effect in Ireland. “Why can’t we be more like the Scottish?” is a question posed by Irish forestry stakeholders but while there are similarities between both countries, MacKinnon also outlines some of the differences.
These include “the high political priority given to forestry since 2016 by the cabinet secretary for the rural economy in the Scottish government, with farming and forestry seen as complementary sectors”.
He acknowledges the commitment of Minister Doyle but he also points to “greater evidence of partnership working with [the Scottish] government” where the industry “is focused on delivering the benefits of forestry while engagement with environmental organisations seems more pragmatic and focused on sustainable outcomes”.
He suggests the “Scottish government’s Forestry Strategy 2020-2030 is a possible model for the sort of document that is required”.
He also notes the greater opposition to forestry in Ireland and the fragmented nature of Irish forests with small areas averaging 8ha compared with 40ha in Scotland where “schemes of 200ha or more are not uncommon”.
Indirectly he addresses the issue of cashflow that Irish registered foresters (RFs) experience. “RFs do not receive their fee until the afforestation licence has been issued, the grant approved and trees planted [which] could take two years or more. In Scotland the landowner/applicant pays whoever is lodging the application much earlier.”
Ireland has disadvantages in expanding the forest resource due to “the 20% limit for planting on unenclosed land”, which is not replicated in Scotland.
He says Irish procedures for afforestation and felling licences are contained in statute while in Scotland “the processes for woodland creation are non-statutory, except in relation to the transposition of European Environmental Directives.” The third-party right of appeal on applications for afforestation, felling and forest road construction in Ireland does not exist in Scotland.
This lack of active engagement is particularly evident in the challenges many inspectors are having with appropriate assessment
The function of pre-application discussions between RFs and State foresters (the inspectorate) does not exist in Ireland while “there was little evidence of Public Bodies actively engaging early in the licensing process,” the review claims.
“The equivalent organisations in Scotland are much more engaged and are encouraged to take a proactive role in problem solving.
“This lack of active engagement is particularly evident in the challenges many inspectors are having with appropriate assessment.”
Cork forestry tech company Treemetrics, established by Enda Keane and Garret Mullooly, continues to seek innovative ways through digital technology to help forest owners better map and manage their forests.
“Our motto is to produce more quality wood from less trees,” said Garret Mullooly.
Last week An Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Coveney, launched Treemetrics’ latest mobile product, HarvestSync. This is an app which “enables automated collection and transmission of key production data from machines working in forests around the world,” said Enda Keane.
“Forests are the lungs of the earth and we know from many recent scientific sources that forestry has a huge and varied role to play in the mitigation of climate change,” said Minister Coveney who also unveiled a plaque at Treemetrics new Cork Global HQ.
“This is one of the great challenges facing mankind and the use of technology, such as that pioneered by Treemetrics, is essential in optimising the use of forests as a source of sustainable building products, carbon sequestration and watercourse protection, to name but a few of the well-documented benefits of forestry.”
I have learned from speaking with the founders that Treemetrics is pursuing many more industry-leading technology developments and the mounting of lidar sensors on harvesting machines will be of particular benefit to the global forest industry.”
Enda Keane said: “Increasing amounts of relevant data from multiple sources, such as earth observation, drone, ground-based lidar, traditional inventory and harvesting machines can now be processed and analysed in real-time for clients.
“Moving to this larger office premises, as well as opening satellite offices in Naas and London, will facilitate the expansion we are planning in the coming years, which will allow us to better support our growing list of clients in North and South America, Australia and throughout Europe as well as Ireland.”