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New strategy launched  to tackle ongoing forestry issues

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Approximately 90pc of all plantings were done by farmers 10 years ago, but in 2020 it was 30pc.

Approximately 90pc of all plantings were done by farmers 10 years ago, but in 2020 it was 30pc.

Approximately 90pc of all plantings were done by farmers 10 years ago, but in 2020 it was 30pc.

A new report on the forestry sector, heavily critical of the Department of Agriculture's handling of issues in the sector, has recommended a new governance structure to address the ongoing issues.

However, at the launch of 'Project Woodland' Minister of State Pippa Hackett, who has responsibility for forestry, failed to commit to a timeline of when current targets of 8,000ha per annum will be met.

Project Woodlands is a report on the implementation of the Mackinnon report on forestry licenses, which was published in November 2019, and the issues surrounding licences in the sector.

An increase in appeals against forestry licensing decisions since late 2019 has resulted in further delays in processing felling licences and declining confidence within the forestry sector.

"The resulting further delays in processing felling licences in particular led to serious threats to business continuity along the supply chain to timber processors, which only started to be mitigated by the end of 2020," the report states.

It also says that a "concerted effort by the Department and the Forestry Appeals Committee with a focus on larger approvals has mitigated the most immediate threat to the processing sector by releasing volume."

However, it goes on to say that this "resulted in a greater focus on Coillte licences" while many private growers "remain deeply frustrated" at the slow and uncertain rate of approval.

"There are extremely high levels of dissatisfaction with the lack of approval of licences in the private sector...generating negative focus in the media, which is further eroding interest in new planting amongst land owners."

Approximately 90pc of all plantings were done by farmers 10 years ago, but in 2020 it was 30pc.

Further, "failure to provide any level of confidence in the timeframe for the issue of planting, roading or harvesting licences has had a significant impact of landowners' views on forestry."

The report also states that the Department "needs to act swiftly to address weaknesses in project management and communications" to establish a clear pathway to deliver the Mackinnon recommendations.

Another issue highlighted in the report is that the viewpoints of farmers are not given due prominence.

Hackett said the current split of licences being approved is 60:40, Coillte: private, and that Coillte supplies 75pc of the timber.

Minister Hackett also said between 60 and 70 appeals are due to be heard in March and that she did not believe there are any grounds to narrow the scope for appeals.

She also said, in response to calls to remove the licences from the sector that licences are there for a reason. “Everyone would love to not have any licences, but they are there for a reason, with European legislation providing directives on habitats and birds.”

Jo O'Hara, the former Chief Executive of Scottish Forestry, who prepared the report said there has never been any suggestion that the EPA would be more efficient to regulate forestry in Scotland.

The latest report proposes a new working group, to include people beyond the forestry teams in the Department, is to be established, set targets around clearing the backlog and ensure sufficient harvesting licenses.

O'Hara will sit on the proposed project board, which will be managed by Colm Hayes, Assistant Secretary General at Department of Agriculture.

In 2020, 4,342ha of forestry was approved and 2,488 planted, against a target of 8,000ha.

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