The Chairman of the IFA Farm Forestry Committee Michael Fleming said, “IFA and other industry stakeholders have been closely watching the progress of the Forestry Bill at Committee stage. The Bill will be entering Report Stage in the coming weeks and there are still a number of outstanding issues remaining which must be addressed if the industry is to grow and prosper in the years ahead”.
The Bill aims to make further and better provision in relation to forestry; to provide for the development and promotion of forestry in a manner that maximises the economic, environmental and social value of forests within the principles of sustainable forest management.
Michael Fleming said, “This Bill must not add any unnecessary burden to farmers who are considering forestry for their land”. In order for the industry to meet future planting targets as set out in the Strategic Plan for the Development of the Forestry Sector in Ireland, it is vital that the areas outlined below are amended by the Minister:
Compensation for the refusal of a felling licence
IFA believe that it is unacceptable that farmers/forest owners are expected to commit to forestry for life when there is no guarantee that the full potential of the crop will be realised. In the current bill the Minister has the right to revoke or suspend a felling licence without any compensation for a potential loss attributed to the forest owner. The Forestry Act (Northern Ireland) 2010 allows for compensation in the event of a felling licence refusal and it is essential that our Bill adopts a similar model.
Terms of a Felling Licence
The fact that the Minister can vary the terms and conditions of contracts, suspend or revoke a felling licence or approval etc. introduces a lot of uncertainty for private forest owners in relation to the management of their investment. If these conditions were to remain the farmer must be compensated for any loss incurred if he cannot realise the full potential of his crop.
Under the current bill the Minister can attach or vary conditions to any licences granted, including dictating the species to be replanted. The forest owner must have an input into species selection. The provision to dictate species selection will hamper the development of the sector and, in the absence of compensation for loss of earnings, it will unnecessary add risk and cost for forest owners.
The introduction of fees will act as a disincentive to farmers to convert land to forestry and result in reduced felling licence applications. This is turn will create a negative image for the industry impacting on job creation and the benefits of forestry to the economy.
Felling licence application timeframe
Although the Minister has acknowledged that every application for a felling licence will be determined within a four-month period, there still remains the option for this to be extended in certain cases. We have great concerns as to the flexibility given to the Ministers appointees in relation to the timeframe for a felling licence. There needs to be a firm commitment in the Bill to a specified timeframe.
‘The current Forestry Bill will dictate the regulation of the industry for many years ahead and it is vital that this legislation does not act as a barrier to individuals entering forestry. We have failed to reach our planting targets for the past three years and this will continue to happen if the Forestry Bill is passed in its current form. The Minister and his Department must reconsider the points outlined if the industry is to grow and prosper now and in the future,’ Michael Fleming concluded.