Tuesday, 12 October 2021
Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine
Coillte is operationally independent of the Department and the management of their forest estate is a matter for the company.
I have therefore forwarded this issue to Coillte for their attention and direct reply to the Deputy.
679. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the steps he is taking to fulfil the Programme for Government commitment to incorporate afforestation into the new CAP to provide incentives for farmers to plant woodland on their farms, acting as a carbon store, helping to promote wildlife corridors and providing a future fuel source for the household; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49858/21]
The National Forestry Programme will continue to be funded nationally, however significant tree planting measures are proposed for inclusion in two schemes under the CAP Strategic Plan; the Eco-scheme and the flagship Agri-Environmental Climate Measure (AECM). Both schemes will be voluntary for farmers to participate in.
The Eco-Scheme will be an annual scheme with the option to opt-in or opt-out each year. Ireland’s Eco-Scheme is proposed to have five actions; participating farmers will complete two actions in any given year. One of these actions is proposed to plant a number of tress per hectare. The Eco-Scheme will aim to engage as many farmers as possible and as such this tree planting action will encourage farmers to plant significant numbers of trees given the land area that will hopefully be entered into the scheme.
AECM will be a multi-annual scheme where farmers will have the option to plant trees and/or hedges. Farmers will have the option to select actions based around planting trees in rows, groups or parkland. In addition, farmers are also proposed to be offered actions relating to planting trees in riparian buffer strips as well as potentially planting tree belts adjacent to farmyards with a view to capturing ammonia.
To facilitate greater integration of small areas of woodland planting on farms under CAP, the Department is also exploring the potential to amend the Forestry Act.
These will complement the Department's Forestry programme which will continue to be funded nationally.
680. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the number of forestry licences processed monthly since 1 January 2019; and the number of applications that were approved or rejected. [49859/21]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 680 and 681 together.
I fully recognise the impact the current forestry licencing delays are having on the sector.
Along with Minister of State Pippa Hackett, who has overall responsibility for he sector, I am in regular and intensive consultation with all stakeholders, and it is my immediate priority to resolve the issues which have led to this backlog and to issue licences in the volume needed for this important sector to continue to contribute to our rural economy.
The delays that have arisen were caused by changes to the licencing system as a result of Court decisions which means that a significant number of cases now need ecological input to comply with environmental requirements. To find solutions towards resolving these issues, as well as focusing on woodland creation, Project Woodland was initiated early in 2021.
It comprises four working groups, each with an independent chair and with members drawn from forestry and eNGO stakeholders on the Forestry Policy Group. The Project Board, chaired by my Department, published its first Interim Report in July and the Project Manager has published the Project Charter which details project management oversight.
As part of Project Woodland, we are about the select a preferred bidder with legal and environmental expertise to carry out an in-depth review of the forestry licensing system. It will review the existing statutory framework for the licencing of forestry activities in relation to environmental and public participation obligations in order that practical advice can be provided to the Department on how to work more efficiently within the existing legal framework.
The business systems analysis currently being undertaken by an independent systems analyst will interact with and run parallel with the regulatory review, so that best possible system improvements are delivered.
In June this year, the Department issued 415 forestry licences. This output was interrupted in July and August by the introduction of a new requirement for public participation under SI 293/2021, signed on 25th June by the Minister for Housing Local Government and Heritage and which applies to all similar planning issues. However, in September licences exceeded expected levels with a total of 585 licences issued. This means that September will be the highest month this year for new licences. We anticipate that we will maintain expected levels of output to the end of the year.
Along Minister of State Hackett, we recognise that the delivery of afforestation licences needs to improve. We are now putting in place a dedicated team of 10 ecologists who will deal solely with these licences for the foreseeable future. This will increase output over the coming weeks. Productivity will depend on the quality of the information provided (that is, NISs, ecology reports, prescreening reports, and habitat maps) provided.
In conclusion, I would like to reiterate my commitment to supporting the forest sector and to building on the recent progress, so that a continual improvement in delivery is achieved.
The Department publishes a range of forestry licence statistics on the Forestry pages of its website at gov.ie. The number of forestry licence applications received, licences issued and refusals since 1stJanuary 2019, are given in the attached table.