‘The level of afforestation in Co. Leitrim is disproportionate’

The level of afforestation in Co. Leitrim has been described as “disproportionate” by the president of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) Joe Healy.

He recently confirmed that the IFA’s National Council has supported a resolution from Leitrim IFA that an assessment of the social, economic and environmental impacts of afforestation within the county should be undertaken.

The level of afforestation in recent years – particularly by non-farmers and outside investors – was of major concern to farmers and rural communities in Co. Leitrim, Healy added.

Ireland’s third National Forestry Inventory (NFI) identified Co. Leitrim as the county with the highest percentage of forest cover – standing at 18.9%. Counties Wicklow and Clare were next in line with 17.9% and 17.2% respectively.

Commenting on the matter, the IFA president said: “The level of afforestation within the county is disproportionate, particularly when you consider that the land area in Co. Leitrim accounts for just 2.2% of the total land area in the country.

The lack of balanced regional spread in the afforestation programme must be addressed.

During a recent visit to the county, Healy met with a delegation of farmers and saw first-hand the impact the level of forest cover was having on both farm families and rural communities.

“Forestry represents a permanent land-use change and it’s important that the social, economic and environmental impacts on rural communities are assessed,” he said.

Healy stated that he would seek a meeting with the Minister of State for Food, Forestry and Horticulture, Andrew Doyle, to get a commitment to fund an independent study in Co. Leitrim on the impacts of afforestation.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the IFA’s National Farm Forestry Committee, Pat Collins, said that the removal of the farmer premium differential under the current programme is central to much of the opposition to forestry.

The land is no longer owned by people living within the communities and any monies earned from grants, premiums and further timber earnings are leaving the local economy.

“As a result of the removal of the farmer premium differential, the perception of forestry among those living in rural Ireland has changed dramatically. A study on the social, economic and environmental impacts would help inform the debate and allow communities to plan appropriately,” he concluded.