A recently-formed group representing the private forestry sector in Ireland held its first major public action today (Wednesday, November 3), staging a protest outside the gates of Leinster House in Dublin.

The Social, Economic and Environmental Forestry Association (SEEFA) brings together different stakeholders in the sector – including owners, contractors and buyers of privately-sourced wood products – with the aim of highlighting the problems in the forestry licencing process.

Speaking to Agriland at today’s event, Paddy Bruton, a founding member of the group, said that SEEFA was formed “out of need”.

“The need is to prevent the complete demise of the private forest sector in Ireland. We have formed because we have been left with no choice [and] have been left with no choice but to protest here today,” Bruton said.

“Every activity we do in the private forestry sector is a licenced activity. The Forest Service in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine…are not issuing the licences we need in order to trade,” he added.

Bruton highlighted that there is “in excess of 1,000” afforestation licence applications with the forest service at the moment, along with “thousands” of felling licence applications. In both cases, he said, it was not known when these would be issued.

“Jobs have been lost. Contractors have gone out of business. Farmers who have been trying to plant land are not able to plant it. Farmers who have forests are not able to get the necessary permits and licences in order to manage their forests.

“I am 24 years in forestry. This is the first time that I have seen fit to take a protest,” the SEEFA representative added.

Bruton also criticised Minister of State for land use and biodiversity Pippa Hackett (who has responsibility for the forestry issue) for, he claimed, informing the group by text message that she would not be meeting them today.

Bruton argued that the situation requires “acute political leadership” and that Taoiseach Micheál Martin himself needs to get involved.

“We have [the Taoiseach] saying yesterday [at COP26] in Glasgow that the time for talking is over and that action is now required [on climate change]. Afforestation, the felling of trees and the managing of crops that capture carbon is the low-hanging fruit in our battle against climate change.

He also called for Ireland’s Common Agricultural Policy Strategic Plan (CSP) to recognise afforestation.

Finally, he noted the plight of forest owners who have ash plantations and the impact that ash dieback is having on them.