Department publishes study on forestry in Leitrim

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine study on Forestry in Co. Leitrim has now been submitted and is available for download from the department’s website, minister of state at the department Andrew Doyle has announced.

This report was commissioned by Minister Doyle in February 2019 to assess the social and economic impacts of forestry in Co. Leitrim.

The study was led by Dr. Aine Ní Dhubháin, of UCD in conjunction with the Bureau for Economic Theory and Applications, INRA, France.

The study, which the department says was completed on schedule, represents a “comprehensive assessment of forestry including the attitudes of people to forestry in the county”.

The study focuses on five terms of reference, making a total of 18 key findings.

It was noted that in 2017, the percentage of forest cover in the county stood at 18.9% – substantially higher than the national level of 11%.

Sitka spruce accounts for 61.3% of the total forest area, it was added, while growth rates of trees in the county are high. Sitka spruce in private stands growth rates are estimated to be 20% higher than the average nationally.

However, it was noted that a key aim of Government’s forestry policy is to expand forest cover nationally from 11% currently to 18% by the year 2046.

In a survey of a sample of owners, conducted as part of the study, it was found that:
  • Just over two-thirds of owners of forests in Co. Leitrim had planted forests on their own land;
  • 26% were investors, buying land or forestry for investment;
  • 5% had inherited their forest;
  • Just over 30% of the forest owners were not resident in Co. Leitrim, though half of these were from neighbouring counties;
  • The average size of an individual forest plot was 6.9ha. 40% had planted more than one plot. The average total area planted per owner was 14ha;
  • 75% of owners were farmers, either full-time, part-time or retired.

413 forestry owners were contacted and, of these, 126 completed questionnaires were returned.

The social impacts of forestry were examined through interviews held with 23 people, as well as a survey of forest owners and voluntary written submissions.

The interviews were grouped into themes, namely: forestry as a land use; forestry’s role in the community; and forest policy. A “strong divergence of opinion” was noted for most of these themes.

In terms of economic impact of forestry, with a base year of 2017,  it was found that 309 full-time jobs were associated with forestry or wood processing in Co. Leitrim.

Meanwhile, a total of €26.5 million was the estimate of economic activity associated with forestry/wood processing in 2017 in Co. Leitrim.

In a comparative assessment of the relativity of forestry and farm incomes, the report states that the estimated overall percentage of farms in the county where the return from forestry would be higher than that from agriculture on a per hectare basis was 67%.

Finally, it was noted that since the Forestry Appeals Committee (FAC) was established in 2018, and a total of 189 appeals have been submitted to it; 25% of these relate to Co. Leitrim. All bar one were third-party appeals.

The report adds that, with respect to afforestation appeals that have been heard to date, the decision in the majority of cases has been to uphold the decision of the minister to grant the afforestation licence.

Minister Doyle on receiving the report encouraged stakeholders to read the report in detail, adding:

I wish to thank Dr. Ní Dhubháin and her team for this detailed report which will be examined carefully by my department over the coming weeks.

“The study will improve our understanding of the impacts of forestry in rural communities and in this regard will form an important part of the final review of the Forestry Programme 2014 -2020,” the minister concluded.