IFA Farm Forestry Chair Vincent Nally said the forest sector is in a state of emergency because of the licence crisis.
“Farmers are facing delays of up to two years, and in some instances significantly longer, to get licences to plant, build a forest road or thin their forest. Applications, which were previously zero-cost, are now costing farmers a minimum of €1,500 where a Natura Impact Statement (NIS) is required,” he said.
“This is unsustainable and has enormous financial implications for these farmers, many of whom are being forced into a non-thin policy that will significantly reduce their income during the rotation as well as at clearfell stage. This will have serious implications for timber supply”.
Vincent Nally said that we have heard in recent days the impact of the licence crisis is having on the wider sector and the potential job losses that are predicted due to the shortage in timber supply and the risks to the national estate due to the importation of timber from countries that have been devastated with bark beetle.
“The majority of farm forests cannot justify the cost of a NIS and are being actively disadvantaged and discriminated against by the Department’s policy. The two-tiered system introduced by the Department means that these applications could have to wait in excess of two years before a decision is taken”.
The plan is not acceptable and disproportionately affects farm forests that cannot justify the costs associated with planting and managing forests. If the system is not made more farmer friendly, the proposals set out in the Programme for Government – Our Shared Future and the Climate Action Plan will not be achieved.
It is estimated that the afforestation programme for 2020 will be approx. 2,500 hectares. This is the lowest rate of private planting in 36 years. The reasons are simple: farmers have disengaged from forestry as a viable land use option, due to the excessive bureaucracy, ineffective administration and spiraling costs associated with planting and managing forests.
- The system must ensure that no farmer has to wait longer than four months for a forestry licence as set out in the Forestry Act 2014 Section 18(1) for a decision on a licence, irrespective of the application size.
- A review the current AA screening process, associated rules and thresholds. In particular, the 15 km radius ‘likely zone of impact’ employed by the Department for screening for forestry licences must be re-assessed and the radius employed tailored to the size and nature of the application.
- Introduce a cost-based planning support grant for forest owners to assist with increased costs and requirements associated with applying for a felling and afforestation licence, including the submission of a Natura Impact Statement, as reference in the Mackinnon report.
- Amend the Forestry Act 2014 to introduce new exemptions for activities, such as forest road construction and thinning operations, that do not present a significant landscape change and present a low risk from an environmental perspective.