Minister of State for land use and biodiversity Pippa Hackett has been told that farmers will “press pause on forestry” if significant improvements are not forthcoming from the new forestry strategy.

Minister Hackett launched ‘Project Woodland’ at the end of last month to tackle the many issues currently facing the forestry sector, not least of all the delay in licencing approvals.

Tim Cullinan, the president of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) has said that he “will hold Minister Hackett to account on her statement that farmers will start to see delivery from Project Woodland within 12 weeks”.

We will give the project board and the working groups this time to start to deliver on the recommendations in the plan, but…farmers will be pressing pause on forestry if they don’t see significant improvement during this time.

The IFA recently held an online meeting with Minister Hackett and Scottish forestry consultant Jo O’Hara, whose recent report on the forestry sector led to the rolling-out of Project Woodland.

Cullinan noted that the minister had put together “a strong team” on the project board, which will oversee its implementation.

However, the IFA president raised concerns that a full-time project manager has not been appointed to lead the implementation.

It was evident from the meeting that farmers have lost faith in the department’s ability to resolve the forest licence crisis. Given the importance of the plan to the future of forestry, I am calling on the minister to reconsider her decision and appoint a full-time independent project manager.

Meanwhile, IFA farm forestry chairperson Vincent Nally said farmers are particularly frustrated with the “communication vacuum” and the “lack of transparency as to where their licence is in the system”.

He called for the recommendation on piloting an environmental report grant should be “acted on immediately and should be piloted on the 1,100 private felling licences that are caught up in ecology”.

“This would go a long way to ease some of the frustration among farmers. It would provide some much-needed support and free up resources within the department to support the implementation of the plan,” Nally argued.