Fire safety drives appeals against Leitrim plantations

A Co. Leitrim group, which represents many farmers, has lodged an appeal to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, due to fire safety concerns in the heavily-afforested county.

The Government is subsidising the plantations of Sitka spruce in the county – ostensibly for environmental purposes – but the Save Leitrim group claims the trees are causing more problems than solutions.

Save Leitrim was founded to protest the Government’s national forestry programme in the county. It is comprised of hundreds of people that live throughout the affected areas –  many of whom are farmers.

The concerns have been raised at a time when forest fire safety issues are making worldwide headlines.

Speaking to AgriLand, Justin Warnock, a Fianna Fail county councillor for Leitirm, said: “It’s getting to a dangerous point, especially when you see what happened in California.

“No planing has gone into this. These trees are being planted too close to homes,” he added.

They’re highly combustible, and when they go up, they go up big time.

Because of these concerns, Save Leitrim, of which Warnock is a founding member, yesterday (November 19) brought an appeal before the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, which is overseeing the afforestation effort.

The group won’t know the outcome of the appeal for a month, but have an estimated 40 more appeals lined-up.

“So the department will be seeing plenty more of us,” explained Warnock.

‘Exploitation’

A closely related concern for the group is how the afforestation plans affect farmers, and what happens to them if their fire safety concerns become a reality.

“We only have small farmers here in Leitirm, and we have a right to stay on our land”, said Warnock, adding: “We wan’t to have a future in our own county.

You can’t exploit one county, even if it saves on your carbon footprint.

Issues of insurance are also big concerns for the group, with Warnock explaining that, apart from the first five years of planting, no insurance is available, giving people no fallback in cases of property damage from fires.

He added that he will be in talks with his party on this issue.

According to the Department of Agriculture’s latest National Forest Inventory publication, (2017), the national forest estate is still growing, and now covers 11% of Ireland’s land area.

Leitrim is the most densely-forested county, with 18.9% of its area forested, while Co. Cork has the largest forestry area, at 90,020ha.

In total, over the last 12 years, the total forestry coverage of Ireland has increased by almost 80,000ha.