Tuesday, 25 May 2021
Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine
522. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine further to Parliamentary Question No. 476 of 13 May 2021, the way all forestry projects in Ireland will impact on the whooper swan, the Greenland white-fronted goose and the barnacle goose, given the fact these bird species breed and nest in Greenland and only winter remotely in Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27456/21]
Ireland’s geographic position places it along an important migratory route – the East Atlantic Flyway – with birds travelling from northern breeding grounds to Ireland and to other important wintering areas farther south. Ireland’s relatively mild climate, moderated by the influences of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf Stream, together with its diversity and abundance of productive wetland habitats, make it particularly attractive for wintering waterbirds, especially when other parts of northwest Europe are frozen over. While many waterbirds remain in Ireland for the duration of the winter, others occur on passage before migrating further south.
Ireland’s migratory swan and goose species feed directly on agricultural grasslands, stubble fields and winter cereals, often returning to nearby waterbodies to roost at night. These species are therefore potentially vulnerable to changes in agricultural land use and management. For most swans and geese in Ireland the main threat is likely to be conversion of improved pasture and semi-improved wet grassland to other crop types or to forestry. There is also the threat that afforestation will take place on lands neighbouring those areas used by Greenland White-fronted geese, which may deter them from feeding even if suitable foraging habitat remains in the area.
The source for this advice is set out below.
Source: Lewis, L. J., Burke, B., Fitzgerald, N., Tierney, T. D. & Kelly, S. (2019) Irish Wetland Bird Survey: Waterbird Status and Distribution 2009/10-2015/16. Irish Wildlife Manuals, No. 106. National Parks and Wildlife Service, Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Ireland.
523. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine further to Parliamentary Question No. 476 of 13 May 2021, the way forestry projects, irrespective of type, size and location, will impact on hen harriers considering the low and sparse population of the species, and given the fact that in parts of Ireland it is proven hen harrier numbers have increased in landscapes where forestry of different ages and rotations exists; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27457/21]
The natural habitat of the Hen Harrier is open bog and heather moorland, with rough grassland also favoured.
Hen Harriers find young forest plantations attractive to breed in, and the population is thought to have increased in the 1960s and 1970s in Ireland due to new afforestation. However, breeding success is compromised by the loss of open space as forest canopies close. After 10 years, a forest is of little habitat value for Hen Harrier until clearfelling takes place.
Second rotation forestry is only suitable for the species for a minority of its life cycle, and as the plantation matures, its suitability declines. Nesting pairs may also be disturbed if sited near forests where work is being carried out. A national Hen Harrier threat response plan is currently being developed led by the National Parks and Wildlife Service.
524. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the number of Coillte licences, on average, that an ecologist processes in a week; the number of private licences, on average, that an ecologist processes in a week for 2021; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27459/21]
The Department currently has 21 full-time equivalent ecologists deployed to deal with all forestry licence applications, both Coillte and private. From January to end April 2021, 732 forestry licences have been issued, following input by ecologists. The average output per week is therefore 43.
525. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the metrics used by his Department in setting a target of issuing 4,500 licences for 2021; the way that figure meets industry demand; the consequences for the industry of failure to reach 4,500 licences given that only 1,100 have been issued to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27478/21]
The targets for the sector are already defined not by number of licences but by metrics relating to targets set for afforestation and forest road and, in the case of felling, potential harvest.
The Climate Action Plan 2019 sets the target for afforestation at 8,000 ha per annum and the target of forest roadworks at 125km per annum. While there are no specific targets for felling, the COFORD Roundwood Forecast predicts a potential harvest of 4.1 million cubic metres in 2021.
The Department has committed to issuing 4,500 forestry licences this year, which is a 75% increase on last year. We have not set individual targets for each type of licence but, based on the proportion of licences issued in 2020, approx. 65% of these will be tree felling licences, 20% will be for afforestation and the balance for forest roads. These figures, of course, must be treated as an estimate of how output will break down across the licensing categories.
Progress to date measured against these targets is set out below:
- Roads: the Department has already issued forest road licences for 115km so far this year which is 92% of the target of 125km set out in the Climate Action Plan 2019. It is, therefore, expected that the road licences issued for the remainder of the year will exceed this target.
- Regarding afforestation, based on the above estimate, the Department would expect to issue licences for over 5,000 new hectares, with 2,236ha licensed to date. This allied to the 4,300 hectares already licensed and ready for use will give the sector sufficient volume to help meet the 8,000 ha target. It is up to landowners to decide to plant, once they have received approval to do so, but arranging financial approval is a straightforward process completed by their registered forester, before proceeding to plant. It is a matter for all stakeholders to utilise the licences available and I would encourage all stakeholders to do so.
- Felling: We have issued just over 2.2 million m3 year to date which is 54% of the COFORD Roundwood Forecast. I am hopeful that last year's output of 5million m3 can be exceeded.
In total to date, 1,236 forestry licences have issued, which is 27% of the target. We expect the rate at which licences forestry licences issue to increase as the year progresses.
In addition, my colleague, Minister of State Pippa Hackett who has responsibility for forestry, has established Project Woodland, to work with stakeholders to examine all aspects of forestry, including developing a plan to reduce the backlog and undertaking an end to end review of licensing processes.
526. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine further to Parliamentary Question No. 965 of 11 May 2021, the number of ecologists and inspectors involved in issuing 1080 licences in 2021, which is up 11% on the previous year; the number of ecologists and inspectors involved in issuing licences for the equivalent period in 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27499/21]
Forestry Inspectors and ecologists work on a range of tasks including licensing as their main task.
Portioning out their time to licensing on a full time equivalent basis, there are approximately 33 FTE Forestry Inspectors working on licensing and there are approximately 21 full time equivalent ecologists working on licensing for the first part of 2021. For the same period last year, the figures are approximately 25 FTE Forestry Inspectors and 4 FTE ecologists.