Planting of new forests in Ireland has seen a decrease in the first six weeks of 2024 compared to the same period last year, according to the latest figures from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM). A total area of 65ha has been planted so far this year, whereas in 2023, 83ha were planted during the first six weeks. The DAFM issued 59 licences for 490ha up until the week ending on February 9, which is the same number of planting licence applications received. Last week, 13 afforestation licences were issued, allowing for the planting of 101ha. In contrast, no planting licences were issued during the corresponding period last year.
The planting rates and licence output by the DAFM were significantly affected last year due to a delay in EU State Aid approval for Ireland’s Forestry Programme 2023-2027. As a result, the number of afforestation licence applications fell from 1,226 in 2019 to 614 in 2022. However, the DAFM has stated that it has the capacity to issue sufficient licences in 2024 to plant 8,000ha, which is the government’s annual planting target set under the Climate Action Plan. To achieve this target, around 1,000 applications would need to be received per year. Nevertheless, the Social, Economic Environmental Forestry Association of Ireland (SEEFA) has recently highlighted that the current rate of planting is “under half the amount required” to reach the annual target.
In addition to new planting, the DAFM has also been processing applications under various forestry schemes. A total of 119 planting applications, representing 998ha, have been approved under the previous forestry programme but have not yet commenced planting. The Reconstitution Ash Dieback Scheme 2023-2027 has seen 320 approvals issued, representing 1,254ha. The Native Tree Area scheme has processed 71 approvals, representing 81.98ha. Applications for the Woodland Improvement Scheme are currently being received.
The Forestry Licensing Dashboard from the DAFM reveals that a total of 21 road licences, 18 private felling licences, and 20 Coillte felling licences were issued last week. In 2024 so far, 109 road licences have been issued, allowing for the construction of 36km of forest roads. This is in addition to the 8km of forest roads already constructed this year. Private felling licences issued in the first six weeks of this year amount to 160, while Coillte licences total 146. Together, these licences permit the felling of 3,622ha.
It is evident that the planting of new forests in Ireland has not met the desired targets in the early weeks of 2024. The DAFM’s capacity to issue licences for afforestation is not being fully utilized, and the current rate of planting falls significantly short of the government’s annual target. Efforts need to be made to encourage more applications and streamline the licensing process to ensure the sustainable growth of Ireland’s forestry sector.