Fine Gael MEP Colm Markey has called for clarity on the schemes and grants that will be available under the next Forestry Programme and said that it is “time to get on with planting”.

Markey said progress is moving too slow in the sector and he voiced his concern that landowners will refrain from planting this autumn as they wait for details of the new programme. He said:

“50% of annual planting takes place in the autumn and I’m concerned that landowners might hold off on it this year as they await details of the new Forestry Programme which is due to begin in 2023.”

He called on Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue to provide an answer on whether the grants in the new scheme will be backdated to cover this year’s planting.

“I recognise the many difficulties facing the industry and I believe clarity around funding would give landowners some certainty in the months ahead,” he added.

Markey, who is a member of the European Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture, said it is time to “get on with implementing a range of measures aimed at overhauling the sector”.

He also called for a reform of the current licensing system and said:

“The evidence is clear: Afforestation is stalled at 2,000ha a year rather than the target of 10,000ha.”

The latest figures on the forestry licensing dashboard show that in the month of June, only 40 afforestation licences were issued, a drop on the previous month when 51 licences were approved.

Meanwhile, 254 felling licences were issued in May, a figure which also fell in June with only 235 being issued. In both months, more than 50% of the applications approved were for Coillte as opposed to private foresters.

“We’ve had the McKinnon recommendations, a regulatory review, a public consultation and a national inventory.

“It’s about time we step up to the mark and make changes to restore confidence, reduce emissions and regenerate the rural economy,” Markey concluded.