Forestry planting running 50pc behind targets
Forestry planting this year is running 50pc behind target levels, despite the Government's insistence that expanding the total area under trees is a key element of its climate action strategy.
Industry sources claimed that forestry planting in 2019 will struggle to exceed 3,500ha, although the target area to be afforested this year is 6,900ha.
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Last week Richard Bruton, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment, claimed the Government was going to transform the Irish landscape by planting 22 million trees for the next 20 years.
However, forestry professionals claimed the sector was being strangled by red tape, as increased opposition to woodland planting applications meant serious delays in approvals were now commonplace.
Paddy Bruton of Kilkenny-based Forestry Services Ltd predicted that total area planted this year was likely to be "closer to 3,000ha than 4,000ha".
While the Department of Agriculture is currently undertaking a review of the approval process for forestry applications, Mr Bruton maintained that the system needed to be totally overhauled as a matter of urgency.
Planting levels have fallen significantly over the last two years. Just 4,000ha were planted in 2018, and the figure for 2019 is expected to be 10-15pc lower.
Under legislation introduced in 2014, a public consultation process is now required where applications are being made for afforestation and felling licenses.
Those active in the sector claim that this has resulted in applications being delayed for extended periods as a result of challenges and appeals, and to the whole system becoming extremely cumbersome and impractical.
Mr Bruton said confidence in the forestry sector remained low, and had not been helped by the ongoing delays in the issuing of planting and felling licences.
The Department's failure to re-introduce the suspended Ash Dieback scheme had also provoked unease among forestry owners, he added.
There has been strong opposition to the increased level of afforestation, particularly in the northwest of the country, with both the INHFA and the IFA last year calling for a moratorium in planting in Leitrim.
The INHFA want an immediate ban on the planting and replanting of monoculture conifers and their replacement with mixed broadleaf forestry and agro-forestry.
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