Investigation confirms illegal felling of 80-year-old oak trees
An investigation into alleged felling of heritage oaks in a protected woodland on Ireland’s largest private estate by the Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service has confirmed the felling of 9 oaks ‘between 60 and 80 years old with some older’.
The oaks were felled on Lady Georgina Forbes’ Castleforbes Estate on the Shannon River in the autumn of 2015 in spite of conditions requested by the Parks and Wildlife Service prohibiting their felling and requiring their retention.
Designated for protection under the Habitats and Birds Directive, the woodland was first recorded in the 17th century.
Deputy James Bannon, TD for Longford Westmeath at the time, first raised the issue by tabling a written parliamentary question seeking information about the felling on December 6, 2015. Minister Heather Humphries replied that she would seek a Report on the matter and provide the Deputy with an answer.
The subsequent Report by the National Parks and Wildlife Service Ranger confirmed the felling of the oaks and the failure to replant the field in question with broadleaves, as requested by the Minister’s National Parks and Wildlife Service.
The Report, however, was never provided to the Deputy and the Forest Service was never informed by Minister Humphries’ Department. In response to further questioning by Deputy Clare Daly, the Minister absolved Department of any responsibility, stating that: ‘it is a matter for the Forest Service to determine if there were any breaches of licence conditions and, if so, whether any action needs to be taken in relation to such breaches under the provisions of the Forestry Acts.’
The investigation, which only took place after a review of the felling licences by Friends of the Irish Environment resulted in a series of complaint in 2016, determined that no prosecution was now possible because of the passage of time. Current legislation requires a prosecution within one year of the offence arising.
In a letter to Clare Daly, TD, who had pursued the matter through Parliamentary Questions on behalf of Friends of the Irish Environment, the Minister also explained that the conditions could also not be enforced as they were contained in a cover letter while the legislation requires any conditions to be contained within the body of a licences.