The country’s annual tree planting level is running 60pc behind the Government’s target for new forest cover, a forester for a leading private forestry company has warned.
It comes as Department of Agriculture data for May, June and July shows an alarming differential between the volume of permits issued for felling (614) compared to those for planting (103). 155 forest road licences were issued during the same period.
Green Belt forester Gerard Dunne says the figures show “a serious imbalance” and he claims there is “a clear favouritism” within the Department towards cutting down trees.
Mr Dunne, who works within the Louth, Cavan, Monaghan, Meath and north Dublin region, said he knows of farmers waiting more than two years for a native woodland planting licence.
“The Forest Service is busy issuing felling licences that will not add one acre to increasing Ireland’s forest cover. Essentially they are busy achieving nothing when it comes to reducing current carbon emissions.
“The forest industry was crying out for felling permits for the past 18 months, but now it is time for the Department to focus on approving applications to plant agricultural land.
“Only by issuing new planting licences will Ireland increase its overall forest cover from the present 11pc to a Government aspirational figure of 18pc.
“Planting trees helps Ireland tick all of the boxes in fighting climate change. However, annual planting figures are running 60pc the Government target of 8,000ha.”
While he acknowledged that the Forest Service “must be commended” on their efforts to reduce a large historic backlog of applications, he said the service needs to be provided to the entire sector from planting through to felling.
Earlier this month Minister of State for Agriculture Pippa Hackett admitted to the Joint Oireachtas Agriculture Committee that the Programme for Government’s annual 8,000ha tree planting target will be missed for a third year in a row.
“We will not hit that target this year. That is clear. Last year, we did not reach it either. We have to start meeting it.
“We are looking at giving a boost to the native woodland creation scheme to encourage more farmers into it, particularly for riparian planting. Everything above 0.01ha will account for afforestation.
“We will do whatever we can to encourage farmers. It is a difficult time and there is not a huge appetite, for different reasons. We will address that and the future vision for forestry will have to address that,” the minister said.