Thursday, 5 March 2020
Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine
Departmental Staff Data
974. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the number of ecologists in his Department dealing with forestry felling licences; if additional ecologists were redeployed to deal with the backlog of licences; the status of the recruitment of new ecologists; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3735/20]
The current backlog on forestry licensing is due to the development and introduction of new Appropriate Assessment procedures (AAP). The requirement for the procedures was outside my Department’s control and was a result of important Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) decisions and their interpretation in national courts and the Forestry Appeals Committee (FAC). The new procedures now in place are robust, but workable within the legislation. The Department has had success at FAC oral hearings on appeals where the licence was granted under the new procedures.
There are currently two ecologists dealing with forestry licences. Two new ecology posts have been offered and accepted and the new ecologists will join the ecology team on a permanent basis imminently. Furthermore, my Department has published a tender to contract external ecological expertise. The closing date for this tender is 13th March, 2020. My Department has already engaged environmental consultants, who continue to work on the backlog of files. Four local ecologists are being deployed on contract this week, to provide extra support.
The steps being taken are taking effect with the number of felling licences issued in February showing a marked improvement on previous months, with a doubling of output in all three categories of felling, afforestation and roads.