The forestry licence backlog has more than doubled in 18 months from 2,300 applications to an estimated 5,000 applications now jammed in the system, industry sources have confirmed.
It comes as a new organisation representing the private forestry sector — the Social, Economic, Environmental Forestry Association (SEEFA) — will hold a major demonstration outside Leinster House on Wednesday over fears the sector is “on the brink of collapse”.
On Tuesday, SEEFA members, including private nurseries, forestry companies, co-ops and harvesting companies, will petition TDs in Dublin in a bid to secure political support on the escalating crisis.
Speaking to the Farming Independent, Marina Conway, CEO of Western Forestry Co-op, said: “We formed an association to protest because we’re at the stage where we’ve no other option… we are about to fall apart.
“Everyone keeps saying ‘it’s going to get better, it’s going to get better’ — but it’s not, that’s the reality. We still have a backlog of about 5,000 licences.
“We have licences in afforestation with farmers for over two years that have not been approved. Now we’re told these applications ‘are not fit for purpose’ because the required information has changed, they’ve been left there for so long.
“We’re in real crisis mode. I’ve no problem with licences going through good environmental reporting, that is hugely important, but the Department has created a processing system that is completely unmanageable. We need political intervention.
“The Climate Change Advisory Council has said we need a 51pc reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and part of their modelling suggests that 139,000ha must be planted over the next 10 years — that’s an average of nearly 14,000ha a year.
“There is not a hope in hell that is going to happen under the current system.
“We have five Government-backed documents with an annual target of 8,000ha — Food Vision 2030, the Climate Action Plan, the Programme for Government, the Forestry Programme, and Forests, Products and People (Ireland’s Forest Policy) — yet last year we planted just 2,500ha and this year we will be lucky to hit 2,000ha.”
SEEFA is seeking “a drastic overhaul” of the licencing system and “full implementation” of the 2019 MacKinnon Report recommendations.
Although the latest figures from the Department of Agriculture’s Forestry Service indicate that about 100 licences per week are being issued, IFA Forestry Committee chairman Vincent Nally says emergency legislation is needed to remove roads and thinning from licence requirement.
“We have forestry under a legislative process that no other sector of agriculture goes through — if you’re changing from a field of grass to a field of barley you don’t have to go through a two-and-a-half-year waiting list to see what you can do with your land.
“The real damaging effect from all of this is the loss of farmer confidence in the Department.
“They are the very people that have caused the demise of the industry — they are literally killing it as we speak.”