Forest service rejects “frenzy of tree-felling”

Department says public safety is the main priority


Environmentalists have expressed concern about “a frenzy of tree-felling” in recent weeks, and claim February’s Storm Darwin is being used as an excuse to fell trees that are rich in heritage.

This has been rejected by the Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service, which said public safety was the main priority when tree-felling licences were issued.

Andrew St Ledger of the Woodland League said he had heard of numerous incidents in counties such as Wicklow, Cork and Monaghan where people were concerned about roadside trees on private land being cut down in large numbers on the pretext that they were a danger to the public.

Ten years
“The 1946 Forestry Act protects all trees above 10 years old. Surely this extends to when they have been felled by storms,” said Mr St Ledger.

He said the onus must be on the Forest Service to ensure trees were protected. He called on the Minister of State with responsibility for forestry, Tom Hayes, to explain why no provision was made to ensure the felled trees were evaluated for suitability to craftwork, furniture and joinery “before being cut up into firewood in a free-for-all frenzy that continues as we speak”.

Mr St Ledger said there was a booming trade in firewood at the moment. There was also a suspicion that people were trying to clear woodland and return it to agricultural use because of the scarcity of farm land and the plans for expansion in the agri-food sector.

Statutory bodies
However, a spokesman for the Department of Agriculture said all felling licence applications were examined by a Forest Service inspector, and if the trees were in an environmentally-sensitive area, the application was referred to the relevant statutory bodies.

“All applications were similarly reviewed for archaeological, ecological and landscape sensitivity concerns,” he said.

“As always, if the Forest Service considers that the felling applied for is not appropriate for any reason or, in this instance, is not a storm damage case, such applications are referred for on-site inspection.”

He said unstable trees were a danger to the public and it was imperative they were dealt with quickly.

“The Forest Service must put the safety of members of the public above all else and this was the greatest priority. The Forest Service could not insist that trees that pose a risk to public safety should remain standing regardless of their age or aesthetic value.”

Call for initiative to double area of forest

A programme to double the area of Ireland’s forests and increase the planting of trees in cities, towns, villages and the countryside is being proposed to the Government.

Crann, a trees for Ireland campaign, also wants to see trees planted along rivers and roads, and is calling for new incentives to allow at least a proportion of commercial forestry to reach its full lifespan.

It says such a programme is needed in view of the UN scientific panel’s fifth assessment report on climate change which called for more afforestation, and “the certainty of a big shift, within the lifetime of trees, in Ireland’s climate”.

Crann says it is also needed to compensate for the spread of ash die-back disease and the increased risk of other tree diseases as the climate warms, as well as the health benefits from “recreational access to forests and treescapes”.

It says a new approach to expanding Ireland’s low level of tree cover would improve the environment as well as making our trees and forests more resilient to climate change, helping flood control and offsetting emissions with more carbon sinks.

Crann is also urging the Government to phase out imports of trees due to disease risks. - FRANK McDONALD