Cllr John Paul Feeley (FF).

Tree thinning figures among highest in Ireland

The amount of commercial forestry, in hectares, to be thinned back in Cavan this year, is the fourth highest in the country, according to newly released figures by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM).

They appear at a time when local councillors backed a motion calling on the government to change legislation and subject applications for commercial afforestation to the full rigours of the planning process.

The motion was tabled by Fianna Fáil’s John Paul Feeley, who has long called for a review of the social and environmental impact of felling activities across the country, in particular West Cavan and neighbouring Leitrim.

Speaking at the April monthly meeting of elected members, the Blacklion-based representative said the general model of afforestation in Ireland is formed in large blocks of Sitka spruce trees.

All afforestation projects however must get prior written approval from the department termed ‘Technical Approval’.

Felling licences may have an operational period of up to 10 years, with timings for harvesting events, whether thinning, clearfell or both, contained at periods within that.

According to departmental figures for all private thinning events notified in licences up to 2034, Cavan will experience the fourth highest in the country, with 999.23 hectares set to be cut back in 2024, behind only Cork (1,344.76), Kerry (1,173.41), and Tipperary (1,167.22).

At the same time 106.68 hectares will be the subject of clearfell.

In total, up to 2034, Cavan will see 1416.49 hectares clearfell, and 3922.92 thinned back.

As regards Coillte Thinning licence applications, 1,121.72 hectares of trees are to be cut back between 2024 and 2034.

Department figures also show there was a more than eight-fold increase in the number of road licences issued for commercial forestry purposes in a 12 months period.

Eight road licences were granted in January 2023, and 67 in January 2024.

In January 2023 the department issued 45 thinning licences and 205 clearfell licences, compared to 18 thinning licences and 183 clearfell licences in 2024 nationally.

Cllr Feeley said what he was asking for had been raised before.

Once again he questioned whether the current trend of afforestation in Ireland was “sustainable”.

“It’s having a huge impact on biodiversity, on water courses and water quality,” asserted Cllr Feeley, who also argued that it was affecting the “sustainability of communities” where large-scale afforestation was taking place nearby.

This had only “exacerbated” in recent times, with the “voices of those democratically elected” seemingly being “ignored”.

West Cavan, Cllr Feeley continued, had suffered the brunt of heavy commercial afforestation, and this in turn had affected not only landscape but the vistas for which the region is famous.

“Its seems they’re being told, ‘Plant as much as you want of the country’, whatever about the impact. It makes no sense.”

Cllr Feeley’s motion was backed by Independent Ireland’s Shane P O’Reilly. He said there needed to be a “level playing field, and that anything the council could do to change the current system to reflect the wider view and opinions of communities should be implemented.

“The Department is not listening,” he said.

Fine Gael’s Peter McVitty also backed the calls made in chamber. He said that afforestation was having serious implications for rural areas, in terms of damage caused to local road infrastructure and also the power grid whenever storms happen.

He criticised how farmers were often the first blamed when it came to pollution but said that “forests were being planted in rivers, dirtying rivers.”

He noted too that there was no reply yet from the ESB on concerns raised previously over power lines being downed by fallen trees.

TP O’Reilly (FG) said there was a “place for forestry” in Ireland, but acknowledged the concerns of his fellow councillors.

There was support too from Fianna Fáil’s Patricia Walsh, Áine Smith, Aiden Fitzpatrick, Cathaoirleach Philip Brady, and Aontú’s Sarah O’Reilly.