In 2022, a total area of 2,273 hectares of forestry was planted in Ireland, a significant decrease from the 6,292 hectares planted in 2015. This information was revealed by Charlie McConalogue, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. However, despite the decline in planting, the forestry sector saw an increase in staff numbers for various roles during the same period.
In 2015, there were 109 staff members employed in the forestry sector. By 2022, this number had risen to 171. The increase in staff was observed across different positions, including inspectors. Additionally, the first director of forestry was appointed in 2021. The number of executive officers increased by nine, higher executive officers by five, and clerical officers by eight over the seven-year period.
Minister McConalogue, in response to parliamentary questions, highlighted that the rise in staffing levels was a result of the department having to adapt to significant changes in regulatory procedures due to environmental regulations. He emphasized that not all staff work full-time and that they are involved in various aspects of the forestry sector, such as licensing, promotion, forest health, payments, and engagement at national, EU, and international levels on forestry policy issues and sector development.
The minister explained that the new procedures implemented a more detailed environmental screening process for licenses. He also mentioned the establishment of the Forestry Appeals Committee in 2018, which allowed third parties and applicants to appeal licensing decisions. This development necessitated additional resources to handle such appeals.
In November 2022, the government announced a proposed investment of €1.3 billion in Irish forestry. The Green Party hailed this as the largest-ever investment by an Irish government in tree planting. The investment demonstrates the government’s commitment to the forestry sector and its recognition of the importance of tree planting for environmental and economic reasons.
The decline in the area of forestry planted in 2022 compared to 2015 is a cause for concern, as afforestation plays a crucial role in mitigating climate change and promoting biodiversity. It is essential for the government to address the reasons behind this decrease and take necessary measures to encourage and support tree planting in Ireland.
Furthermore, the increase in staff numbers reflects the growing complexity of the forestry sector and the need for robust regulatory procedures. The involvement of staff in various aspects of the forestry remit demonstrates the wide range of responsibilities they undertake to ensure the sustainable management and development of Ireland’s forests.
Overall, while the decrease in forestry planting is a setback, the government’s proposed investment signals a commitment to rejuvenating the sector. It is crucial for the government to continue supporting and promoting tree planting initiatives to safeguard Ireland’s natural resources and contribute to a greener future.