Thursday, 15 July 2021
Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine
34. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will report on the coverage of commercial forestry and the further plans to increase same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38602/21]
Forestry meets many societal needs and is a sector I fully support. It provides renewable timber products for both the export and domestic market, it is an important source of employment in rural Ireland, it contributes to our climate change and biodiversity objectives and affords people throughout the country a much appreciated outside space to enjoy. Productive forestry or commercial forestry is of course an important economic driver and is generally in Ireland considered to mean conifers particularly Sitka spruce. While broadleaves are important for biodiversity, conifers make up the bulk of timber that is processed through sawmills.
Harvested wood products are a key part of our climate policies in Ireland as they can serve to replace fossil fuel based products particularly in construction for example. These products will be derived form conifer plantations and highlight how our forestry policy must have a place for all types of trees.
The most up-to-date source of statistics in Ireland is Forest Statistics Ireland 2021 which Minister of State Hackett launched last month. It is from that report, informed by the National Forest Inventory, I can say that of the 770,000 hectares of forests in Ireland, some 71.2% are conifers and 28.8% are broadleaves.
There are substantial stands of commercial forestry due for harvesting in the coming years, The recent timber forecast predicts that the annual potential roundwood supply, will increase from 4.9 million in 2021 to 7.9 million cubic metres by 2035, followed by a small decrease to remain constant at circa 7.6 million cubic metres up to 2040.
While this is the case, it is our overall aim to increase forest cover in Ireland from 11% to 18%, and to achieve 8,000 hectares per annum. I am more than aware that we have been falling well short of this target in recent years, and while there may be many reasons for this, one contributory factor is undoubtedly delays in issuing licences. We are tackling the current backlog through the Project Woodland initiative and we have seen increases in the number of licences issued in recent months.
Looking to the future, the development of a new Forest Strategy is underway in Working Group 2, under Project Woodland. A public and stakeholder engagement process will take place later this year to inform the development of the new Forest Strategy and will also inform the next National Forestry Programme which is expected to come into effect from 2023. I encourage all those interested in the shape and content of forest policy in Ireland to engage with this public consultation process once it is initiated.