Critical changes to Forestry Bill are needed to safeguard our natural assets

Environmental Pillar meets Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine at 2pm today to discuss the Forestry Bill
28 January 2014: The Environmental Pillar says that critical changes must be made to the Forestry Bill 2013 to safeguard our natural environment for the well-being of future generations. Without these changes, we will continue to suffer losses to water quality, wildlife and our landscape, as well as losses in economic opportunities for rural communities.
The draft Forestry Bill will become the main instrument guiding Ireland’s forest and woodland management regulations. The Environmental Pillar has recommended a number of key amendments in its submission to the government.
“These amendments are essential if Ireland’s forestry practices are to be a positive for the environment and not continue to be a problem for wildlife and water pollution,” said Anja Murray, Environmental Pillar spokesperson.
“Under the current regulations, many wild and wonderful habitats are drained and planted up with an industrial monoculture of non-native conifer trees. These provide relatively poor habitat for wildlife, and are often dependent on heavy use of chemical fertiliser which ends up polluting our waterways.  More damage occurs to waterways and wildlife when the plantations are clear felled 40 – 50 years later,” she continued.
“We need to move away from monoculture forests, with their rows of Sitka spruce marching through the countryside. Instead we should be making the transition to more mixed forests and sustainable long term management practices. Carefully adapted and well managed mixed forests generally produce better timber and deliver better economically too, keeping and creating jobs in rural communities. Forests with a good mix of tree species, including native trees, and mixed age structures, are also much more resilient to climate change, drought, and pests and diseases. ‘Close to nature’ forest management also locks up far more carbon in the long term,” Ms Murray said.
The Environmental Pillar also points to the need for ‘joined-up thinking’ in the government’s approach. One example where it is lacking is the Department of Agriculture’s insistence on scrub removal to qualify for the single farm payment, which contradicts the Forest Service’s objective of increasing Ireland’s low tree cover.
The Environmental Pillar is meeting the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine today to discuss the Forestry Bill 2013, at 2pm in Committee Room 3.

Other key recommendations
Other recommendations from the Environmental Pillar relate to strengthening protection for ancient woodlands, of which there are so few of remaining in Ireland. The Environmental Pillar also seeks to ensure that the new Bill ensures greater compliance in the forestry sector with the Birds and Habitats Directives, two of the cornerstones of European nature conservation law. The Environmental Pillar seeks reform of the 1988 Forestry Act establishing Coillte, as well as recommending special protection for hedgerows of historical or ecological significance.  Another benefit to increasing native species of hardwoods is that this will help to reduce the demand for tropical hardwood imports and deforestation. Full submission
The Environmental Pillar’s submission on the draft Forestry Bill to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine can be downloaded here.
Other references which may be useful are the Environmental Pillar’s Tree Cover Policy and our statement on the problems of ash dieback and other tree diseases.