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Fresh calls for forestry system ‘overhaul’ as oak plantations ‘disappear’

May 4, 2021

Fresh calls for a “major overhaul” of the forestry licensing system have been aired by Forest Industries Ireland (FII) as it warns the sector remains in a “very dangerous” position. (This article has been copied in full from the Irish Independent website - full credit to authors Claire Mc Cormack and Ellie Donnelly).

With just 45 licences per week being issued by the Department of Agriculture’s Forestry Service – a far cry from the industry requirement of 125 licences per week – FII director Mark McAuley says “little progress” has been made in the last 18 months adding that thousands of jobs are still on the line.

It comes as “alarm” has been raised that the country’s oak plantations are “disappearing” due to the knock-on consequences of massive delays in felling; while Coillte’s chief executive Imelda Hurley says the lack of approved road permits continue to restrict the state’s timber supplies.

Speaking to the Farming Independent the Mr McAuley said: “The situation is very dangerous for everyone in the sector and licensing output from the Department is far below what is required.

"They need to at least double up on their productivity. We are planting very few trees and timber shortages are acute.

“The system needs a major overhaul to remove the granular licensing approach. A regulatory system would be much better where rules are strictly enforced, but a licence is not always needed up front.”

“We need to streamline the existing system and reduce unnecessary delays and bureaucracy. I think this can be turned around, but there has been precious little progress in the last 18 months. We need to get serious about this, and fast,” said Mr McAuley who has updated members of the Joint Oireachtas Agriculture Committee on the crisis in recent days.

‘Dying off’ Gerard Dunne, a forester working with Green Belt, says the “serious delay” in felling permits is doing irreparable damage to Ireland’s oak plantations.

“15 to 20 years ago, all oak plantations were planted with alternate lines of conifer species to nurse and shelter the oak crop as it grows. However, this nurse species must be removed early in the age of the crop rotation, otherwise it will suppress the very crop it is supposed to shelter and protect.

“Now, due to the serious delay in felling permits, these oak trees are now dying off. So thousands of acres of Irish oak forests are disappearing. They are turning into pure larch and pine forests.

"But the Forest Service do not realise this, it is a calamity that is not being acknowledged by the Department,” he said.

Furthermore, Coillte, the state's commercial forestry business, has seen its earnings fall by a third on the back of the forestry licensing crisis.

While demand from its core markets of the UK and Ireland is “reasonably strong,” the company said forestry licensing issues - now “primarily related to road permits” – continue to restrict supply.

"We are fully licensed for this year, all of the volumes we need to be licensed is licensed. The challenge we have is that we can’t access some of that volume at the moment because we need to have roads to access to the volume and in a number of situations we haven’t as yet received the road license from the Department.

"We need those road permits in order to be able to access that timber that’s licenses, as we are not really behind just now in terms of the hectares.”

The Department had not responded to queries on the licensing backlog as this article went to print.