The Minister of State for Forestry, Senator Pippa Hackett last Thursday chaired the fifth meeting of the Forestry Policy Group which oversees the implementation of Project Woodland. Following the meeting, she announced that she has asked the Project Board to commission immediately an independent external regulatory review of the forestry licensing process.
Making the point that the request for such a review had emerged from the stakeholder led Project Woodland Working Groups, the Minister said of their work: ‘I am very pleased with the progress made by the Working Groups since we established the Project just four months ago. That is a very short timeframe considering the difficult task they have taken on, but they have really hit the ground running. Indeed they have submitted first draft proposals on a series of issues which will now be considered by the Project Board with a view to implementing some of the aims of Project Woodland.
The proposals referred to by the Minister range from ones on reviewing the regulatory process to recommendations on dealing with the backlog. In addition, the first draft working documents on the development of the shared national vision for forestry were brought to the Policy Group.
Commenting on this the Minister said “Our new vision for forestry in Ireland must deliver for the environment, for communities and for industry. So all of these recommendations will be examined carefully by the Project Board. However, the most pressing and urgent is the need to review the regulatory and planning process for forestry licensing with particular focus on how other EU member states approve these processes. I have now instructed the Project Board to immediately commission an external expert to carry out this work”.
Noting that the day to day work of the Department continues in parallel to the work of Project Woodland, the Minister also welcomed the recent improvement in licensing output, with an average of 90-100 licences per week issuing since mid-May. Much of this increase has been to the benefit of private landowners especially farmers. The Minister re-iterated that the Department is committed to its target of 4,500 licences this year and continues to invest heavily in resources with five new ecologists joining it last week.
The Minister also welcomed the progress made by Irish Rural Link who she had commissioned to engage with local communities on attitudes to forestry and future woodland creation. Commenting on this the Minister said “I firmly believe that the views of communities must be heard and understood. The work of Irish Rural Link undertaking direct engagement will be key to this. Work has started on this and stakeholders will be consulted through focus groups to discuss key questions, and the answers will, I hope, point us in the direction of how to encourage positive community involvement in the sustainable development of the forestry sector.
The Minister commended members for their engagement with Project Woodland and thanked the Chairs of the Working Groups and the members of the Project Board for their ongoing commitment to the process, concluding: ‘It’s clear that real progress is being made. Reform on the scale that is proposed here is not easy or quick but is always worthwhile”.
Project Woodland was established in February this year by the Minister with the objective of addressing forestry licensing issues and developing a new national Forestry Strategy. The main focus of last week’s meeting was to update on progress made by the four Working Groups that form part of Project Woodland as well as an update from the Chair of the Project Board, Secretary General of the Department, Brendan Gleeson.
Project Woodland is an integral part of the DAFM Action Plan for 2021 specifically Action 36: Implement the MacKinnon Report and deliver Project Woodland to tackle issues in forestry in Ireland and drive forward the planting of tree and Action 37: Advance a new Forest Strategy for Ireland
The membership of the Forestry Policy Group is as follows:
|Teagasc||Nuala Ni Fhlatharta|
|Pro Silva||Paddy Purser|
|None So Hardy||Teige Ryan|
|Environmental Pillar||Andrew St Ledger|
|An Taisce||Elaine McGoff|
|Irish Wildlfe Trust||Pádraic Fogarty|
|Birdwatch Ireland||Oonagh Duggan|
|Woodlands of Ireland||Joe Gowran|
|Irish Rural Link||Seamus Boland|
|Stop Climate Chaos Coalition||Sadhbh O’Neill|
All of the documents for the Forest Policy Group can be found at gov.ie – Forestry Policy Group chaired by MoS Hackett (www.gov.ie)