A new strategy for the forestry sector has been launched today (Thursday, February 25), following the release of a report into the issues around the forestry licencing system.

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue and the Minister of State Pippa Hackett have announced ‘Project Woodland’, aiming to “drive forward” the planting of trees.

The ministers accepted a new report on reforming the Irish forestry licensing system, and said they were “committed to its immediate implementation”.

Minister McConalogue said: “The new initiative is aimed at solving many of the issues which have mired the forestry sector in recent times.”

The implementation of Project Woodland will be led by Minister Hackett.

The report into the sector – and which led to Project Woodland – was compiled by Jo O’Hara, who was commissioned by the Department of Agriculture to look into how to apply the recommendations of an earlier report on the forestry licencing system – the Mackinnon Report.

“Jo O’Hara has confirmed my own belief that while, of course, the issues with licencing – of afforestation, roads, and felling – must be addressed, bigger questions about forestry also need to be considered. Timber production is important, but trees are about more than timber,” Minister Hackett remarked.

They are also about beauty; biodiversity; the environment; carbon capture; community enjoyment and enterprise; and social good, and it’s time to find the space to say that, and to value that.

Project Woodland involves four different ‘workstreams’ working to the minister through a project manager and project board. The project board will be chaired by the department secretary general, Brendan Gleeson.

The workstreams will work concurrently, focusing on different areas. The first one will concentrate on the licensing backlog; the second on a “vision” for forestry; the third on devising a “fit for purpose” organisational structure; and the fourth on streamlining the licensing process for the future.

Each workstream will be supported by a working group made up of stakeholders drawn from the minister’s existing Forestry Policy Group and will be chaired by an “independent, experienced outsider”, the minister said.

Speaking on O’Hara’s finding that “issues exist which were beyond the scope of her report”, Minister Hackett said: “I expect the working groups to be wide-ranging.”

“I also expect that there will be interaction between the working groups and other areas in the department so that, for example, CAP [Common Agricultural Policy] measures – perhaps eco-schemes for farmers who would be prepared to plant smaller areas – are aligned with Project Woodland, rather than in competition with it,” she added.


The minister also announced an initiative involving communities, explaining that she had asked Irish Rural Link to undertake a study on the effect of forests on communities.

“I am asking Irish Rural Link to build up on the work done by Aine Ní Dhubháin in UCD a few years ago, to engage with communities, to look at the upsides and downsides of forests for them as they exist at the moment, and come up with recommendations for the future,” she noted.