An new initiative called Project Woodland is to tackle the issues in forestry in Ireland and drive forward the planting of trees, Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue and the Minister of State Senator Pippa Hackett have announced.

The project is Minister Hackett and the Department’s response to the implementation of the MacKinnon Report, which was delivered in 2019.

Under the leadership of Minister Hackett, Project Woodland involves four different streams working to her through a project manager and board.

The project board will be chaired by the secretary general at the Department of Agriculture Brendan Gleeson.

The work streams will work concurrently, focusing on different areas.

The first one will concentrate on the backlog, the second on a vision for forestry, the third on devising a fit-for-purpose organisational structure and the fourth on streamlining the licensing process for the future, the Department said.

Each work stream will be supported by a working group made up of stakeholders drawn from the Minister’s existing forestry policy group and will be chaired by an independent, experienced outsider.

Issues in forestry

The new initiative is aimed at solving many of the issues which have mired the forestry sector in recent times, Minister McConalogue said.

“Working alongside my colleague in the Department of Agriculture Minister of State Pippa Hackett, we are focused on delivering solutions for the sector.

“As Minister with responsibility for the forestry sector, Minister Hackett will lead the implementation of Project Woodland and I am confident that it can be a success.

“Challenges remain in dealing with issues in the sector, but I am hopeful that the report Minister Hackett is launching today can overcome many of these challenges.

“Having a vibrant forestry sector is crucial to the overall strategy of the agri-food sector, as well as ensuring we have a stable, balanced economy.

“We have the potential to deliver a brighter future for this great sector, but all stakeholders must work together in order to make that happen,” he said.

Forestry licences

Acknowledging the work of Jo O’Hara, the former chief executive of Scottish Forestry, who prepared the report for her on the implementation of the Mackinnon Report on forestry licences, Minister Hackett said: “Jo O’Hara has confirmed my own belief that while of course the issues with licencing – of afforestation, roads and felling – must be addressed, bigger questions about forestry also need to be considered.

“Timber production is important, but trees are about more than timber. They are also about beauty, biodiversity, the environment, carbon capture, community enjoyment and enterprise, and social good, and it’s time to find the space to say that, and to value that.

“That is why I am delighted today to announce the immediate setting up of Project Woodland.”

Community impact of forestry

The Minister also announced an initiative involving communities, explaining that she had asked Irish Rural Link to undertake a study on the effect of forests on communities.

“I am asking Irish Rural Link to build up on the work done by Aine Ní Dhubháin in UCD a few years ago, to engage with communities, to look at the up and downsides of forests for them as they exist at the moment, and come up with recommendations for the future, which can then be fed into the ‘shared national approach’ workstream.”

See next week's Irish Farmers Journal for more on the project.

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