Sir, – Over the past weeks, your newspaper has carried two articles referencing the state of the forestry sector in Ireland.
Justin McCarthy ("The relationship between farmers and environmentalists is broken", Opinion & Analysis, May 20th) writes of serial objectors, usually self-proclaimed environmentalists, who have crippled the sector causing a timber shortage, resulting in the sawmills having to import lumber and thereby exposing the country to even more imported tree diseases. Barry O'Halloran ("Forestry licence delays driving contractors out of business, committee told", Business, May 27th) reports on the Oireachtas Agriculture Committee, where TDs criticised the repeated failure of the Forest Service to issue licences and to clear the massive backlog.
In 2020, Minister of State for Land Use and Biodiversity Pippa Hackett amended the Forestry Act in order to curtail the abuse of process by serial objectors. However, any hope of this action resolving the issues was derailed as the Forest Service Inspectorate insisted on classifying forestry as an industrial operation and implemented a process called “appropriate assessment” to vet all forest projects from planting to road-building to tree felling. The process is anything but appropriate to measure the impact of any forest operation, necessitating that under current Forest Service rules, a zone of 15 kilometres around the forest site be examined to see how this zone will be affected by the forest operation applied for. In practice, if we were going to plant a forest in St Stephen’s Green, the area within an arc from Swords to Lucan to Bray and three kilometres beyond to Howth Head would have to be examined. This requirement on the face of it seems like absurdity on steroids, but I believe it is part of an attempt to curtail conifer afforestation. Forest Service officials claim that a European Court ruling forced this on the sector, then said that the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) suggested the 15km zone, with the NPWS vehemently denying that it recommended anything of the sort. It appears that the Forest Service Inspectorate decided to classify forestry as an industrial process. Two questions must be asked – who and why?
The classification has stalled the sector, collapsed the afforestation process, starved sawmills of raw materials, deprived forest owners of income and the ability and right to manage their forest holdings, as well as depriving foresters, nurseries and contractors of business and ultimately forcing people to leave the industry.
People in the industry talk of an agenda that seeks to curtail conifer afforestation as much as is possible in favour of broadleaf planting. Such an agenda is in direct contravention of Government policy. Quality broadleaf trees cannot be grown on poorer soils, which are what most land owners wish to afforest. Give foresters the Golden Vale and we will grow the finest oak and sycamore to be harvested in 150 years! The best we can hope for is a vibrant native woodland planting scheme focusing on biodiversity in all forms, and a thriving conifer afforestation programme, where other species like western red cedar, Scots pine and western hemlock are considered as well as the much-maligned sitka spruce, where site conditions allow, as well as a meaningful and self-sustaining 20 per cent or 30 per cent broadleaf component of those conifer sites. To date, all TDs, including the Taoiseach and Tánaiste, have been made fully aware of the problems within the Forest Service, which have plunged our once-thriving sector into chaos and turmoil.
The Forest Service has failed its stakeholders and has allowed tree-planting to be viewed with suspicion and disdain in an era when the world urgently needs vibrant and rapid afforestation programmes. – Is mise,