The planting and afforestation figures for the first four months of 2023 have seen a significant decline when compared to last year’s data, according to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM). So far this year, an area of 255ha has been afforested, with only four afforestation licences issued, allowing for plantings of 86ha. This is significantly lower than last year’s figures of 1,374ha. The government’s Climate Action Plan 2023 aims to increase annual afforestation rates from approximately 2,000ha per annum in 2021 and 2022 to 8,000ha per annum from 2023 onwards. An area of 2,018ha would need to be planted over the next eight months to equal last year’s total of 2,273ha, and a further 7,745ha would be needed to reach the yearly target of 8,000ha.
In April 2023, the DAFM issued no afforestation licences and 14 road licences. So far this year, four afforestation licences, 1,022 felling licences, and 36 road licences have been issued. The number of applications received currently stands at 47, 1,058, and 182, respectively. Up until the end of April 2023, the DAFM approved the construction of 14km of forestry roads and the felling of 12,051ha of forests. Forestry roads of 17km have been constructed to date this year, compared to 21km during the same four-month period from January to April last year. The area of forests approved for felling this year is lower compared to the same time period last year at 16,090ha, according to DAFM figures.
In November 2022, a new €1.3 billion Forestry Programme was announced, offering grants and premiums for the planting of trees. These rates will be between 46% and 66% higher than the previous rates. Minister of State at the DAFM, Pippa Hackett, recently stated that the “formal process and submission” to secure approval for the programme is now underway with the European Commission.
The decline in planting and afforestation figures is concerning, given the government’s ambitious Climate Action Plan 2023. The plan aims to achieve a net-zero greenhouse gas emissions target by 2050, with an interim target of a 51% reduction in emissions by 2030. Afforestation is a crucial tool in achieving these targets, as trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, reducing the amount of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.
The decline in afforestation rates is likely due to a number of factors, including the impact of COVID-19 on the forestry sector and the ongoing concerns around the impact of afforestation on biodiversity. However, the new Forestry Programme, with its increased grants and premiums, may encourage more landowners to plant trees and increase afforestation rates.
It is important for the government to address the decline in afforestation rates and ensure that the Climate Action Plan 2023 is on track. The forestry sector has a crucial role to play in mitigating the effects of climate change, and it is essential that afforestation rates are increased to achieve this goal. The new Forestry Programme is a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done to encourage landowners to plant trees and increase afforestation rates.
In conclusion, the decline in planting and afforestation figures is a cause for concern, and the government must take action to address this issue. The new Forestry Programme offers increased grants and premiums, which may encourage more landowners to plant trees and increase afforestation rates. However, further measures may be necessary to ensure that the Climate Action Plan 2023 is on track and that Ireland is doing its part to mitigate the effects of climate change.