Annual Review and Outlook 2020: What are the biggest challenges for forestry?

Despite ongoing delays in issuing forestry felling licences and delays through the appeals process, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) says 2019 was a “record year” for the issuing of licences.

In the Annual Review and Outlook 2020 launched by the Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue today, Thursday October 8, the department says 4,100 licences were issued in 2019, up 16% from 2018 levels.

The department acknowledges that delays in late 2019 have been “posing difficulties for forest owners and sawmills”.

The area under forestry is estimated to be 770,020 hectares or 11% of the total land area of Ireland (3rd National Forest Inventory 2017).

Forest cover is estimated to be at its highest level in over 350 years.

Of the total forest area, nearly 391,358 hectares or 50.8% is in public ownership – mainly Coillte.

Nearly half of the stocked forest area is less than 20 years of age.

The 4th National Forest Inventory commenced in 2020 and data will be collected over the next two years.

In 2019, €89.9 million was spent by DAFM on forest activities including afforestation, maintenance grants, annual premium payments and grants for forest road infrastructure.

Cork had the highest afforestation area at 423 hectares followed by Clare at 352 hectares.

Payments were made by the department in 2019 in relation to the afforestation of 3,550 hectares of land. Broadleaf planting, which includes the planting of native woodlands, accounted for 25% of this figure.

While cumulative total afforestation for the years 2015 – 2019 is some 26% less than the target for these years, interest in planting native woodlands has been increasing.

Over half (50.8%) of forests are in public ownership, with the remainder in private ownership. Farmers have accounted for 81% of private lands afforested between 1980 and 2019.

Forestry as an option for farmers

The review states: “improved grant and premium rates for Agro-forestry and Forestry for Fibre have been introduced which may encourage farmers to consider forestry as a possible option on their farm alongside other farming activities.”

Cork and Galway have the highest estimated number of people working in the forestry sector.

According to the Annual Review and Outlook, the biggest challenges facing the forestry sector include Brexit; EU Timber Regulation/FLEGT (Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade); Covid-19; falling afforestation levels; forestry licensing and changes to Appropriate Assessment Procedure (AAP).

In relation to the process for issuing licences and handling appeals, the department says it has taken action to address the delays by means of the following:
  • 11 more Forestry Inspectors will be recruited in 2020;
  • Six additional staff to be assigned to the Ecology Unit;
  • Four ecologists have been contracted to provide extra support while five full-time ecologists will work on licensing files.
  • Additional administrative staff assigned to the Agriculture Appeals Office to assist with the increased workload of the Forestry Appeals Committee.
  • Three planning officers have been contracted to work with the Forestry Appeals Committee.
  • A specialist mapping expert has been assigned to forestry issues.

The Forestry (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2020 was brought to the Dáil last week by Minister of State with responsibility for land use and biodiversity Pippa Hackett.

At that time she said: “I know there were concerns about the timing of the bill and the speed at which it is being pushed through the Oireachtas procedure, and I share that concern.”

Secondary legislation which gives effect to the main provisions of the bill was enacted yesterday (Wednesday October 7).