The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine last month issued 193 forest licences – which is down 45% on the number issued in January 2021, according to the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA), which said such figures “make for stark reading”.

Commenting on the matter, IFA Farm Forestry Committee chairman Vincent Nally said: “Farmers need to see delivery on the recommendations in Project Woodland.”

Nally also called on the Minister for Agriculture to immediately introduce the environmental grant to support farmers with the cost of getting a felling licence.

The latest figures from the department “make for stark reading” and “again show the need for a radical overhaul” of the existing licence system if there is any chance of clearing the backlog, the chairman said.

In March, 193 forest licences were issued, which was down 29% on February and 45% on January. Of the 193, 140 were issued to the private sector and 53 issued to Coillte. The breakdown is as follows: 52 afforestation licences, 48 forest road licences and 40 felling licences.

Commenting on the forest licences, Nally said: “Despite the additional resources, we’re not seeing the pick-up in the granting of licences.

“It’s devastating for farmers who are still waiting to manage their forests, and whose investment is losing value while they are forced to wait.”

Nally noted that ecology continues to be a major pinch point in the system.

“The minister must introduce an environmental grant to support farmers with the cost of getting a felling licence immediately.

“This should be piloted on the private felling licences that are caught up in ecology,” he said.

The chairman said that the department continues to prioritise afforestation applications – but it’s the farmers who have already invested their land that need a felling licence and supported through a grant.

“Farmers with forests ready for thinning cannot wait for the recommendations in Project Woodland to be delivered.

“Too many hectares of productive private forestry will be lost while they wait for the bureaucratic red tape to be fixed,” he warned.