Foresters accuse Hackett of rowing back on planting targets

New Department of Agriculture plan aims to tackle timber shortage

Foresters say Green Party Minister of State for Land Use and Biodiversity Pippa Hackett is rowing back on a pledge to plant 8,000 hectares of new timber this year.

Department of Agriculture delays in issuing licences needed to plant, cut and transport trees have created a bottleneck in timber supplies that is hitting housebuilding among other industries.

Ms Hackett, the Minister responsible, recently promised that the department would issue 1,040 planting licences this year. However, the Social, Economic Environmental Forestry Association – a recently formed private forestry industry group – says that commitment means the Government has already halved its previously-stated target to plant at least 8,000 hectares with new timber this year.

Association chairman Teige Ryan said: “Based on the last number of years, the issuing of 1,040 licences would result in only about 4,000 hectares being planted.”

And Conor Daly, of the Forestry Company, said the department was unlikely even to reach 1,040 planting licences this year as that would require officials to issue 20 such permits a week.

“Over the first four weeks of the year, an average of 14 licences per week were approved,” he said. “We’re already slipping behind this low target.”

The industry group wants Ms Hackett to publish the details behind the projections which are published in the department’s forestry plan for this year.

Industry crisis

The crisis in forestry licence delays is in its third year. Industry players maintain that it takes up to 24 months to get licences.

Mr Ryan, who runs nursery business, None So Hardy, said recently that young trees ready for planting in commercial forests are being exported to Scotland, from where the Republic is importing timber to meet its needs.

The department document argues that it turned a corner last year, issuing 4,050 new licences in total – across planting, cutting and transport – 56 per cent higher than in 2020. However, it shows that the 2,592 licences issued in 2020 was less than half the 2019 total of 5,310.

The department maintains that court rulings demanding greater ecological assessment of licence applications slowed permit processing two years ago.

This year’s plan states that officials will issue 5,250 licences this year, one-third more than in 2021.