A significant increase in afforestation licenses has been recorded in the first four weeks of 2024, according to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM). A total of 38 licenses were issued during this period, compared to just two licenses issued during the same time last year. The area of forestry planted so far in 2024 is 320ha, with a total of 789ha planted throughout the entirety of 2023. In contrast, only 47ha were planted in the fourth week of January last year. Additionally, 107 private felling licenses and 94 Coillte licenses were issued in the fourth week of January, along with 67 road licenses.
The Climate Action Plan has set an annual afforestation target of 8,000ha. However, the Social, Economic Environmental Forestry Association of Ireland (SEEFA) has expressed concerns about the slow uptake of the new afforestation scheme. SEEFA stated that if the current trend continues, it is likely that 2024 will be another disappointing year for new planting, similar to 2022 and 2023. SEEFA believes that the application process needs to be more welcoming to landowners, and that firm deadlines should be implemented urgently.
In addition to afforestation licenses, a total of 279 licenses have been allocated so far this year under the Reconstitution Ash Dieback Scheme 2023–2027. This scheme involves the clearance of ash trees and associated operations to prepare the site for reconstitution. Furthermore, 57 licenses have been allocated under the Native Tree Scheme (NTAS), which supports the creation of small native forests on farmed land. The NTAS aims to establish new native forests on farmed land and alongside streams, rivers, and lakes, in order to protect and enhance water quality and aquatic habitats.
Overall, the increase in afforestation licenses is a positive development for Ireland’s forestry sector. However, concerns remain about the slow progress in meeting the annual afforestation target set out in the Climate Action Plan. It is crucial that the application process becomes more accessible to landowners and that deadlines are enforced to encourage greater participation in afforestation initiatives. Additionally, the allocation of licenses under the Reconstitution Ash Dieback Scheme and the Native Tree Scheme demonstrates the ongoing efforts to protect and enhance Ireland’s natural environment.