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Eight-fold increase in felling licence approvals needed to meet future demand

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Approvals for forestry felling licences for private woodlands will have to increase eight-fold by 2025 if Ireland is to realise the full potential of plantations established in the 1980s.

Less than half of the one million cubic metres of timber which could have been harvested from mature private forests in 2020 was actually cut.

Just 400,000 cubic metres of timber was harvested last year as the continuing logjam in the Department of Agriculture’s forestry licensing regime significantly curtailed woodland activity.

And those involved in the forestry industry have warned that the situation is likely to get a lot worse over the next four years as applications for felling licences are set to treble.

Paddy Bruton of Kilkenny-based Forestry Services Limited explained that the volume of timber available to harvest from private plantations is set to increase sharply to 3.0 million cubic metres by 2025 as woodlands planted in the late 1980s finally mature.

However, industry sources pointed out that Ireland will be in a position to harvest just 15pc of these timber volumes unless the current approval rate for felling licences significantly improves.

A total revamp of the Department of Agriculture’s forestry licensing regime has been demanded by the sector, with calls for the current procedures to be totally streamlined.

It is estimated that in excess of 250,000 tonnes of timber was imported from Scotland last year by Irish sawmills due to the inability of the Department’s Forestry Service to process felling licences. The cost of the imports is put at over €25 million.

“The state, having invested billions into private sector forestry, is squandering that investment for its citizens, the industry and the forest owners. Once a forest is established, harvesting will ultimately occur,” Mr Bruton said.

Describing the current difficulties in the forestry licensing regime as a “scandal”, he said it illustrated a “lack of planning and management within the Forest Service”.

“Department officials’ attempts to divert the blame for this debacle to court cases and objectors are disingenuous in the extreme. The responsibility rests with the Forest Service of the Department of Agriculture,” Mr Bruton claimed.

“The question at this point is, what are Minister McConalogue and Senator Hackett going to do about this. We have had enough of commitments to engage with the stakeholders; it's time for action, not for talking,” he said.

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