The government’s strategy on forestry, Project Woodland, has “failed to make significant progress”, the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) has said.

Jason Fleming, the association’s national forestry chairperson, has expressed frustration with the progress of the strategy, which was launched in the spring of last year.

Speaking this morning (Thursday, August 25), Fleming said a recent regulatory report on Project Woodland “gave few recommendations” to improve the forestry licencing system, or to address concerns of farmers involved in forestry.

“What is equally frustrating is the ongoing lack of progress made in addressing the key issues in the forestry sector which has brought the whole sector to its knees,” he said.

The independent Project Woodland: Regulatory Review Report looked into the forestry regulatory system in Ireland, and explored whether improvements could be made to the licensing system, while working within the parameters of Irish and EU environmental law.

Project Woodland was established in February 2021 with the aim of identifying and overcoming issues with the forestry licencing system and to increase the number of trees planted.

“It’s been a year and a half since Project Woodland was set up. But in those 18 months we have seen little progress, with the very same issues relating to the licencing system continuing to cause huge problems,” Fleming said.

He called for a full reform of the licencing system to encourage farmers to plant.

This reform, Fleming argued, should aim to reduce delays in licence approval, allow for exemptions for general management practices such as thinning, introduce a single consent system, and change the current appropriate assessment (AA) screening process.

“Restoring farmers’ confidence in forestry is the only way we will see a reversal in the downward trend of forestry planting in Ireland,” Fleming said.

The IFA forestry chair added: “The government has set out ambitious forestry planting targets as part of the Climate Action Plan. They have absolutely no hope of achieving these unless the fundamental problems affecting the sector are addressed.”