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Opinion: We are serious trouble when it comes to afforestation targets

Independent TD, Michael Fitzmaurice, discusses Ireland’s afforestation targets.

There is no hope of Ireland having any chance of meeting its future climate change targets if issues around afforestation are not addressed.

The DAFM will have to field the blame for these targets not being met if immediate action is not taken when it comes to afforestation targets.

Minister of State Pippa Hackett recently provided an update on Project Woodland and forestry licensing issues.

Progress seems to have been made regarding felling licence, for both private forest owners and Coillte. However, we are in serious trouble when it comes to afforestation targets.

Afforestation targets

Look at the latest figures. There were six times more private felling licences issued (36) than afforestation applications (6). The DAFM issued a further 52 felling licences to Coillte during that week.

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Take October and November as a whole; the department issued 746 felling licences.

The number of afforestation applications that gained approval stood at 92 over those nine weeks.

“f you look at hectares alone, felling licences amounted to a total of 6,152ha over October and November. Afforestation licences amounted to 654ha over the same period.

So for those two months, we are giving the green light to forest owners to fell over nine times the area of new ground we are giving landowners the go-ahead to plant.

In her recent update, Minister Hackett acknowledged that the improvement in the processing of licences has not been equal – and that the afforestation system needs particular attention.

This is an understatement. Targets of establishing 8,000ha of new are constantly talked about.

The reality is we will not reach even half of that this year. This has been the case for the last few years.

With just one month of processing left in the year, the likelihood is that 2021 will fall behind each of the last two years when it comes to afforestation.

The department revealed plans lately to implement a pilot pre-application discussion with foresters ‘to streamline the applications for afforestation’.

But further action is required if we are to have any hope of reaching the lofty afforestation targets. This will, in turn, assist with meeting climate change targets.

But the department and relevant ministers have a considerable amount of work to do to rebuild confidence among landowners in the forestry sector, particularly given the well-documented troubles it has encountered in recent years.

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