Letter to the editor: ‘Forestry owners who can’t get a licence – like dairy farmers who can’t milk cows’

There is widespread acknowledgement that there is a crisis in Irish forestry.

However, the Forest Service does not seem to grasp the seriousness of the situation, which has been largely caused by their own inaction.

Forest owners simply cannot get permission to plant trees, thin their forests or build forest roads. We have attempted to engage with the Forest Service for some time.

We have communicated our concerns to the chief inspector, Seamus Dunne but we are unconvinced that there is any understanding of the hardships and losses being caused by their failure.

Forest gates are being closed and jobs are being lost.

Forestry targets

The Forest Service has barely reached 50% of its own targets for issuing forestry licences.

In June of this year the Forest Service launched a plan to deal with the crisis, but there was no mention of the extent of the backlog.

This plan contained project milestones, against which the success or otherwise could be judged. Unfortunately, the results of this plan speak for themselves.

In the first four months of the plan, covering August to November, it is my understanding that the Forest Service approved 276 licences that were caught up in their ecology section. Their own target for this period was 535 licences. They hit 52% of their own target. Even if they did meet their targets it was still going to take years to clear the backlog.

Each of the licences being held up represents a landowner who is being disadvantaged.

We are very familiar with the difficulties being caused, as many of them are clients of ours. For example, timber prices are at an all-time high at the moment.

A forest owner with 15ac to clearfell now could expect in the region of €137,000 for their crop. Last year, the equivalent price was €105,000.

If this owner cannot get a licence in time to cut now the cost to them is €32,000.

It’s like a dairy farmer being told that they cannot milk their cows.

The Mackinnon report

Last year the government commissioned a report into the approval processes for forestry in Ireland.

This was carried out by a forestry and planning expert from Scotland – Jim Mackinnon and was published in November 2019.

A key finding in that report was that a single consent was required to cover all forestry activities including planting, road construction, management, and felling.

When trees are planted, it is reasonable to expect that they will be thinned as part of normal forest management.

Until the Mackinnon report is fully implemented, we are simply rearranging the deckchairs.

From Dermot Houlihan, Association of Irish Forestry Consultants (AIFC), Co. Cork.