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Forestry leaders: No direct representation in CAP consultations poses risk for industry

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The forestry sector has experienced a collapse in felling and planting activity over the last three years. Photo: Roger Jones

The forestry sector has experienced a collapse in felling and planting activity over the last three years. Photo: Roger Jones

The forestry sector has experienced a collapse in felling and planting activity over the last three years. Photo: Roger Jones

The absence of direct forestry sector representation on the CAP consultative committee has been slammed by industry leaders.

Forestry consultants and woodland companies have warned that their exclusion from the framing of Ireland’s CAP Strategic Plan risks exacerbating the serious difficulties facing the forestry sector, which has experienced a collapse in felling and planting activity over the last three years.

The emphasis on eco-schemes in the new CAP also risks undermining efforts to increase the area of afforested land, forestry sector leaders claimed, due to the incompatibility of commercial woodland planting with traditional environmental programmes.

“The forest industry has not been directly represented on the CAP consultative committee. In fact, Minister McConalogue has claimed that Department of Agriculture officials are representing forestry in the CAP consultative committee,” said Paddy Bruton of Kilkenny-based Forestry Services.

“This is nothing other than contempt for the industry. These are the same officials who have presided over a licensing debacle for the past number of years,” he added.

“For Minister McConalogue to further state that the Forest Policy Group is representing forestry in the CAP Strategic Plan discussions is also nonsense. The policy group has held no discussions on CAP and has never been told that it has a role in the formulation of Ireland’s CAP Strategic Plan,” Mr Bruton maintained.

The forestry sector representatives also questioned the compatibility of current environmental programmes with commercial planting. They claimed that these schemes were effectively sterilising planting grade land.

Citing written answers to Dáil questions, they pointed out that a maximum of 2,655 farmers who are in Glas have planted land since joining the programme. This represents just 5pc, at a maximum, of the 50,000 farmers in the scheme.

“The eco schemes, using Glas as an example, are not compatible with forestry and are in effect in competition,” explained Marina Conway, CEO of Western Forestry Co-op.

“I have been outlining the impact Glas has had on farmers wanting to plant forestry to the department for many years.

“This competition results in less afforestation, which is ultimately going to cost the wider agricultural sector and the State billions in terms of reduced carbon sequestration arising from reduced afforestation rates,” Ms Conway maintained.

This view was shared by Teige Ryan of Wicklow firm, None So Hardy Forestry Ltd. “Although the department’s failure to issue licences to the sector has been well documented for bringing the industry to an all-time low, our customers will also say the crisis has been compounded by the incompatibility of forestry and Glas,” Mr Ryan said.

With up to 30pc of both Pillars I and II payments in the new CAP potentially tied to eco-schemes, Mr Bruton said it was imperative to create enhanced linkages between forestry and environmental programmes.

“Ireland needs to interlink and fund complementary environmental measures in new afforestation projects into any new environmental scheme under the next CAP, ensuring afforestation and existing forestry is a key part of CAP, even if the forestry programme is funded separately to CAP,” he said.

Mr Bruton said the future of the forestry programme hinged on changes to the proposed CAP model 2023-27. He pointed out that 16,000ha/year will have to be planted for Ireland to meet its carbon sequestration targets. However, the country is currently planting just 3,000ha/year.

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