A primary focus on public engagement and afforestation licences has been announced by the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Pippa Hackett.

Addressing the eighth meeting of the forestry policy group, the minister said the aim this year is to increase considerably the number of afforestation licences issued by the department, adding that “a good start” has been made already.

A plan outlining projections the minister is committed to meet will be published shorltly.

Also on the minister’s agenda is to ensure that the forestry message is well communicated to the public, and this will be done via public engagement, including youth engagement, which is to happen this coming week.

Further consultative processes with the public will happen next month.

A survey on the public’s attitude towards forestry, conducted recently, will feed into the development of a new forest strategy, the minister said. Results from that study showed that people are open to more forestry in the country.

The survey, which involved 1,000 people over the age of 16, also highlighted that need for better communication about forestry, including enhanced media representation.

Afforestation progress made

During the group policy meeting, the minister highlighted progress to date including the increase of almost 60% in licensing last year and the stabilisation of timber supplies for the processing sector.

Also, the backlog of forestry licence appeals, which results in a delay of licences processed and granted, has been dealt with, she said.

Further progress made includes:

  • Commissioning of an independent regulatory review of the forestry-licensing system;
  • Piloting of a new system facilitating a pre-application engagement between the forester and the department;
  • Arrangements to provide a financial contribution to applicants towards the cost of environmental reports.

Minister Hackett said that despite Project Woodland being “challenging and complex”, through collaborative work by the forestry policy group members and working groups, progress is being made.

Project Woodland – made up of four working groups – is an initiative dedicated to the improvement of the forestry licensing system.

“By our actions and through a collaborative approach, we have a chance to make a real difference to our climate and biodiversity outcomes, while delivering on economic and recreational needs.”