Irish Authorities to Vigilantly Scrutinize Scottish Timber Imports in 2024

"Director of Forestry Assures Ireland's Preparedness to Tackle Spruce Bark Beetle Threat"

The director of forestry at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), Barry Delany, has expressed confidence in the department’s ability to handle the threat posed by the spruce bark beetle. Delany made these remarks during a meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine on Wednesday, January 17. The committee gathered to discuss the potential impact of the pest on Irish forestry. Delany informed the committee that the only area from which coniferous roundwood can be imported into Ireland is a specific UK Government authority assigned ‘pest free area’ (PFA) in the west of Scotland. He explained that Scottish authorities conduct regular surveys for the beetles, including site inspections for timber destined for trade with Ireland, as well as lures, traps, and bi-annual aerial surveys. So far, no spruce bark beetles have been found within the PFA. Delany emphasized that the Scottish authorities, regardless of their EU membership status, are part of the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC). Therefore, in order to send any product to Ireland, their national plant protection authority must carry out the necessary surveys and demonstrate compliance with EU import requirements. Delany assured the committee that this is precisely what the Scottish authorities do.

In terms of roundwood log imports into Ireland, there are three designated ports: Rushbrooke port and Passage West port in Co. Cork, and Wicklow port. These ports have established enhanced inspection facilities since Brexit. Seamus Dunne, senior forestry inspector with DAFM, informed the committee that imported timber can only be released once the department is satisfied that it complies with plant protection standards. This involves checks of documentation and physical examination of the timber. Dunne explained that although there are thousands of logs in each shipment, they do not inspect every single log. Instead, they take a sample of approximately 30-45 or 50 logs from the top, middle, and bottom, and conduct an examination. While they have sporadically found bark beetles, particularly on older logs, these have been native beetles found in Ireland. To date, they have not discovered any of the quarantine bark beetles of concern. Once the department is satisfied with the examination, the cargo is released. Dunne revealed that native beetles were detected in two shipments over the past month in ports in Wicklow and Cork. Barry Delany reassured the committee that DAFM has sufficient staff to inspect the timber consignments. He stated that in 2024, they will be conducting 100% inspections for all such consignments and expressed confidence in their resources to do so.

Despite Delany’s reassurances, several members of the committee expressed serious concerns about the current measures in place. In response, Delany invited the committee to visit Wicklow Port to witness the department’s operations firsthand. He also revealed that a negotiated agreement with Scotland is imminent, which will involve increased surveillance by Scottish authorities and certain restrictions on product origins. Delany further announced that the department will soon present the findings of a review of its biosecurity measures to the committee. Additionally, the Forest Health Network will engage with stakeholders on the issue of the bark beetle, among other matters.

The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) has called for a temporary suspension on the importation of timber from Scotland until a comprehensive review of the biosecurity measures for the great spruce bark beetle can be conducted. However, Delany cautioned that such a ban may result in Ireland being found in breach of international trade agreements. He explained that as Scotland has established a PFA and is willing to stand by it based on surveys that have found no evidence of the beetle, it would be “very difficult” for Ireland to unilaterally take action against it under the plant health regulations.

Matt Lyons

Matt Lyons

Matt Lyons is the founder of Forestry & Carbon. Matt has over 25 years as a forestry consultant and is invoilved in numerous carbon credit offset projects.

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