IFA Farm Forestry Chairman Vincent Nally said the Cabinet decision to amend the Agricultural Appeals Act must deliver efficiency in the forestry appeals system that makes it fit for purpose.
“Farmers with a crop to harvest have become very frustrated with the appeals system and the backlog,” he said.
Mr. Nally said that farmers must have confidence that an appeal will be heard within a defined timeframe so they can manage their forest sustainably.
“The financial and emotional costs, as a result of the delays in the forestry appeals system, should not be underestimated,” he said.
Farmers can be waiting over two years to get their licence approved only for it to be then appealed, where it could take a further two years for their case to be heard.
“The system is not fit for purpose, and if not amended, it will have a significant impact on the immediate wood supply, and on future wood supply from farm forests,” he said.
There is over a million cubic metres of wood caught up in the backlog. This represents a lot of income for farmers, not to mention the thousands of rural jobs that are supported through the mobilisation and processing of this indigenous product.
Farmers need a forestry appeal system that will issue decisions in a defined timescale so they can manage their forest effectively and protect the value of their investment.
Vincent Nally, IFA Farm Forestry Chair said the health of the national forest estate is under threat due to timber shortages; a result of the forest licence crisis.
“Forest owners are concerned by recent reports of the importation of timber from a country with an infestation of bark beetle,” said Mr. Nally.
“Forest owners have seen first-hand the devastation caused by ash dieback to the value and health of their forest.”
It is a legal requirement that all timber imported into Ireland must be devoid of bark. Ireland’s natural protection as an island and recognition of both its pest-free status and as a specially protected zone under EU plant law has ensured that to date this beetle and other pests have been kept out of the country.
Mr. Nally recognised the enormous difficulties faced by sawmillers due to domestic timber shortages as well as the risk to jobs and their market position due to considerable delays in forest licences. However, he said that we must not put the national estate at risk.
“The potential danger is phenomenal. Spruce is the most predominant and commercially important species in Ireland. According to the 2017 forest inventory, spruce accounts for over 60% of the forest area.”
He stressed the importance of any prospective importer engaging fully with the Department for guidance on import requirements and for Departmental inspection arrangements.
The Irish timber market appears to have escaped the impacts of COVID-19 to date, there has been no decline in demand and the market remains buoyant, with a strong demand for roundwood. The delays and shortages in felling licences and the resulting shortage in harvesting operations may have assisted in maintaining strong demand for roundwood.
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.
Note for Editors: see IFA proposals below
- 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.
IFA Farm Forestry Chairman Vincent Nally said the plan to address the backlog of forestry licences actively discriminates against farm forests and could signal the end of farmer planting.