Forestry to the fore in CAP meeting: ‘Enough is enough’

Forestry was one of the main contentious issues discussed at last night’s consultation meeting on the future of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

Held in the Bush Hotel in Carrick-on-Shannon, the Save Letrim group had organised a peaceful protest prior to the meeting to demonstrate their frustration at the level of afforestation in the county to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed.

Taking position at the back of the room – with banners and signs clear for everyone to see – members of the group voiced their concerns.

From the Save Leitrim group, councillor Justin Warnock made it clear to the minister and the packed function room – with in the region of 400 people in attendance – that Leitrim has had enough afforestation.

“From Tullaghan to Bornacoola, it has been no-stop by vulture funds and other investment companies that are coming in, buying up our land and displacing our people,” he said.

Our county is being decimated and we want a stop put to the Sitka Spruce – we want it stopped now. We deserve – as a rural county – the right to live and work on the land in order to support the villages and communities.

“So, minister if you leave with one thing tonight, leave with we have had enough. Find something else rather than the Sitka Spruce to plant.

“Furthermore, we don’t want to see the junior minister’s advertisements for planting Leitrim in the Leitrim Observer anymore.

“We have had enough minister; enough is enough,” he said.

‘We are being sold out’

Meanwhile, Shane Ennis – a local farmer – was another one of the congregation who asked Minister Creed to address the level of afforestation.

“We are in a situation here now where there are foreign wealth funds coming in and buying swathes of Co. Leitrim. What are they doing with the carbon credits that they are getting off this land?

Are they trading them nationally or internationally? It looks as if our little county is being sold out to corporations in America and Europe for the greater good of the Government.

Another farmer from just outside Carrick-on-Shannon, Michael McManus – who is a member of the Leitrim Organic Co-op – believes the planting of Sitka Spruce does not constitute forests, due to a lack of biodiversity.

He felt that farmers in the region do not get enough credit for taking care of hedgerows and promoting biodiversity.

McManus added: “We have a lot of moss in Co. Leitrim; it’s a natural carbon sink. It makes no sense planting trees where you already have a natural carbon sink. All you need is farmers to manage that landscape.”

An invitation for Minister Creed

While addressing the floor, Gerry Loftus – the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers’ Association’s (INHA’s) forestry spokesperson – invited Minister Creed to tour Co. Leitrim in order to see the level of afforestation with his own eyes.

“We toured Co. Leitrim with our four MEPs to show them the diabolical and disgraceful situation that is in this county. You talked about community earlier on, there is a lot of this county that there is no community in.

Churches closed, schools closed, houses gone, farmyards gone – and now we have a safety issue; because, we have trees planted around people’s houses within 30m of their doors. What happens in the middle of the summer if these forests go on fire?

Loftus indicated that there is a plan to plant almost a million acres of Sitka Spruce by the year 2035 – a species he described as “invasive”.

Continuing, he added: “We have no objection to forestry minister, if it is done correctly and if it is done with broadleaves and planted fairly.

“There is no point in any minister bringing in a forestry scheme for 15 years. What is the farmer going to do for money when the 15 years run out? The thinnings will not pay the contractor at 18 years. To harvest the timber at 30 years, the value of the of timber is worthless – it’s junk.

“What does a farmer do then if their son or daughter agrees for it to be signed over to them? They have to go back and re-plant at their own cost. They have to fertilise it, finish it, maintain it for another 30 years for nothing.

What sort of people wrote up these schemes? Are they on tablets? Because, if they are not, they need to get some.

Over my dead body is this country going to be planted with 970,000ac of Sitka Spruce,” he finished, to a rapturous round of applause.

Minister Creed acknowledged the comments during his closing address and agreed to reflect on them going forward.