National farmer conference on forestry this Friday

In response to concern expressed by many of its members on forestry expansion, a national conference is being held by the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) to highlight these issues.

The conference, which will be attended by a number of public representatives both at home and in Europe, is scheduled for this Friday night, January 19. Held in the Bush Hotel Carrick-on-Shannon, the event will begin at 8:00pm.

Commenting on the event, INHFA spokesperson on forestry Gerry Loftus said: “The conference will address how the forestry expansion is impacting on farming, communities and the environment.

It will also provide the opportunity for those currently living in the shadow of a rapidly-increasing forestry belt to come and have their say.

Citing a report from the Council for Forestry Research and Development (COFORD), issued in late 2016, Loftus said: “An agenda is clearly developing that could see large areas of land in western counties planted.”

The report is claimed to highlight 1.8 million hectares of land alleged to have limited agricultural activity, with 1.08 million hectares suitable for forestry. This, he added, amounts to over 25% of the agricultural land and, if implemented on the ground, will have devastating consequences for counties like Leitrim.

“We need to look at exactly what we want from forestry and look at the bigger picture as regards rural depopulation, water quality and the effect it can have on rivers and streams.”

On the topic of rural communities, Loftus outlined how difficult the last decade has been through business closures, emigration, unemployment and the withdrawal of services.

“Farming and the money spent around it is what has kept many of these communities going.

“Farm families are often what keeps the schools open, the GAA clubs going and the community alive; because, for better or worse, the farming activity they are involved in keeps them there.” Forestry, the spokesperson concluded, will never do this.