Should afforestation require planning permission?

A bill is expected to be laid before the Dail this week which would place a requirement for planning permission to be obtained for afforestation.

The bill – which would also require for an environmental impact assessment (EIA) to be carried out for forests over 10ha – is being brought forward by Sinn Fein’s agriculture spokesperson, Martin Kenny.

Representing the Sligo-Leitrim constituency, Deputy Kenny explained to AgriLand that the bill is “an amendment to the Forestry Act 2014 and sets out to regulate one part the forestry industry”.

Continuing, he said: “The model of afforestation which is operating in Ireland at present has many deficiencies and needs to be restructured.

“Large areas of marginal land are being planted with an industrial model of afforestation, which is highly grant-aided and provides tax-free income.

While it may tick the box for carbon sequestration, these pine forests come with high costs to the state and to the communities where these forests are closing in on people and indeed to other aspects of the environment.

“This afforestation model brings a permanent change of land use, with dark evergreen plantations that grow over 40 years to heights of over 15m and are then clear felled and replanted,” he said.

The Sinn Fein TD argued that there also issues with the absence of biodiversity and low carbon sequestration in these types of pine forests, which are “being promoted as the answer to our carbon emissions problem”.

“Communities in many areas are now being overshadowed by these forests; of course in Leitrim it has been an issue for many years and contributes to rural depopulation – which is now at crisis levels.

This amendment will force the local authorities to examine the impact of afforestation on the landscape; as we all know, the smallest of developments require planning and forests should be no different.

“In the present Forestry Act 2014, carrying out an environmental impact assessment is required when the area is over 50ha and this should be decreased to 10ha to allow for proper oversight,” he concluded.

Current requirements

As it stands, most forestry operations are exempt from the requirement to obtain planning permission, according to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

Some forestry activities require – under current legislation – consent, by way of licence, from the department.

It is an offence to undertake the following forestry activities unless you first obtain a licence from the department:
  • Tree felling – a felling licence is required to uproot or to cut down any tree (subject to certain exemptions);
  • Aerial fertilisation – an aerial fertilisation licence must be obtained before a person can use an aircraft to apply fertiliser to a forest;
  • Afforestation – an afforestation licence is required for all afforestation projects where the area involved is greater than 0.1ha (approximately 0.25ac);
  • Forest road construction – a licence is required to construct a forest road. (If a forest road construction project includes the provision of access to a public road, planning permission for the access may also be required).