November 21, 2023
Afforestation licensing continues to plummet despite new Forestry Programme – Claire Kerrane TD

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Agriculture, Claire Kerrane TD, has said that afforestation licensing figures continue to drop, despite the new Forestry Programme 2023-2027 being rolled out in recent weeks.

Recent figures show that just 42 afforestation licences have been issued this year so far, and just two applications have been referred to the Department’s Ecology unit for review to date in November.

Speaking today, Teachta Kerrane said:

“I have engaged with individuals and organisations representing farmers, forestry owners and the commercial forestry sector in recent weeks. These figures are indicative of the wider concerns raised by them regarding the management of forestry in the State. 

“Many have raised the same worries that the new afforestation scheme under the Forestry Programme 2023-2027 is too limited and restrictive, and at times, too administratively burdensome to allow for the levels of afforestation that we need.

“While I understand that eligibility criteria for planting is required, it cannot be the case that rules are so rigid to prevent afforestation on scale.

“One forester I spoke with in recent weeks confirmed that many prospective afforestation sites are no longer eligible due to new rules regarding planting on peatlands, which potentially rule out huge areas of land.

“Minister Hackett has cited EU State Aid rules as the rationale for this requirement, and I have submitted a query to the European Commission to seek clarity on this matter.

“Even where afforestation applications are being made, I am hearing from applicants that they are waiting for a long time for the file to be processed, with no timeframe for when they can expect to receive their licence.

“A recent reply to a Parliamentary Question I submitted showed that, so far in November, just two afforestation applications have been referred to the Ecology unit for review.

“While the review process is important, it is concerning that such a low number of applications are being processed – particularly when the new afforestation scheme is up and running.

“I have raised the absence of a forestry licensing strategy with Minister Hackett. It is really disappointing that we are almost at the end of 2023 and still no licensing plan or timeline is in place.

“That just 42 afforestation licences have been issued so far in 2023 is very concerning. According to SEEFA, that represents around 2% of what is required for government to meet our afforestation targets of 8,000ha per year. We have never been as far off that target as we will be this year. 

“Many of those involved in forestry that I have spoken to are worried this Programme will repeat many of the same mistakes that have been made before.

“Farmers and forestry owners need to know they can have confidence in the management of forestry, and years of mismanagement has had an impact on buy-in in recent years. 

“It is welcome that we finally have a new Forestry Programme in place, but it is clear that confidence in forestry remains at a low and shows little sign of improving.

“As I have said, the Government have failed and continue to fail to deliver on forestry. It is crucial that these key issues are addressed so that we can improve confidence, meet our targets and realise the potential of the Irish forestry sector.”

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