The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine is set to discuss the potential threat to Irish forestry from the spruce bark beetle. Members of the committee will receive a briefing from a delegation representing the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) and officials from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM). The spruce bark beetle, which has already been detected in the UK, burrows into the bark of living trees to lay eggs, with the larvae then feeding on the woody material. This can weaken and eventually kill the tree. The IFA estimates that approximately 200,000 hectares of Irish forestry could be at risk if the beetle were to arrive in the country. As a result, the association has called for a temporary suspension on the importation of timber from Scotland until a thorough review of biosecurity measures for the spruce bark beetle can be conducted. The DAFM, however, has stated that imports of roundwood logs from a pest-free area in Scotland are subject to inspection.
Cathaoirleach of the Oireachtas committee, Deputy Jackie Cahill, emphasised the potential economic consequences of the spruce bark beetle infesting Irish forests. He explained that the committee would be questioning the DAFM about the biosecurity measures in place to prevent the beetle from entering the country. Prior to addressing the Oireachtas committee, IFA President Francie Gorman stressed the importance of learning from the mistakes made with ash dieback in dealing with the spruce bark beetle. Gorman warned that an outbreak of the beetle would cause significant economic losses to the forestry industry, with farmers bearing the brunt of the consequences. These consequences include a reduction in the commercial value of infested trees, increased management costs, and replanting expenses. While measures are currently in place to prevent an outbreak, Gorman called for a thorough examination of their effectiveness, making it a priority to avoid another devastating blow to the forestry sector. He highlighted that overlooking just one spruce bark beetle can lead to widespread infestation, as has been seen in Europe. Jason Fleming, Chair of the IFA National Farm Forestry Committee, echoed Gorman’s concerns, stating that farmers lack confidence in the State’s ability to prevent the beetle’s arrival in Ireland. Fleming called for the government to take a more proactive stance on the issue and to implement every precaution necessary to keep Ireland free from this pest.
In addition to the spruce bark beetle, Gorman expressed disappointment with the pace at which the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is addressing ash dieback. Minister of State at the DAFM, Pippa Hackett, announced that a comprehensive implementation plan for ash dieback would be presented to the Cabinet by December. This statement followed the publication of an independent review of supports for farmers affected by ash dieback, which stated that the tree disease should be treated as a national emergency. Gorman acknowledged that farmers were relieved by the report, as it was the first time in 12 years that the impact on them and their farm families, as well as the financial losses, were properly recognized. However, Gorman expressed concerns that the recommendations would not be acted upon, and urged the government to publish an implementation plan urgently and introduce a new scheme that adequately supports and compensates farmers affected by ash dieback.