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‘You couldn’t overstate the level of anxiety in the industry’

Appeals blamed for costly backlog of felling licences

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Dan Foran and Michael Sweeny watching spruce being loaded at Dans farm for delivery to Graingers sawmills
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Dan Foran and Michael Sweeny watching spruce being loaded at Dans farm for delivery to Graingers sawmills

There are around a million cubic metres of saw logs tied up in a backlog of felling licences due to appeals, according to Forestry Industries Ireland. Mark McAuley, director of the IBEC body, which represents forestry companies, said around 1,800 files are awaiting assessment for licences to be granted.

The backlog, he says, has built up over the past year, and he warned that saw mills will run out of logs in October, having a direct impact on timber merchants and the building and construction sectors.

Environmentalist Peter Sweetman has 21 outstanding objections against Coillte, but says he’s not to blame for any alleged shortage of felling licences, which others claim is causing a shortfall of timber in the country.

“They are accusing me of stopping all the wood because I have these 21 appeals. On August 5, Coillte put in 300 applications for felling licences. If I have 21 out of 300 they lodged I am not causing the world to stop. It’s all spin — inefficiency always needs a scapegoat.”

According to McAuley, Coillte — the main supplier of logs — has significantly reduced the number of timber auctions it holds this year.
“They have the trees, but they can’t cut them down,” he said. “Further, about 21,000 farmers with forestry cannot get a licence. It’s only a trickle getting through.

“You could not overstate the level of anxiety in the industry. They are trying to deal with supplies for fourth quarter but they can’t guarantee delivery. They don’t know when they will have logs.”

While some saw mills are looking at sourcing timber from Europe, McAuley said EU sawmilling is running at capacity. “Importing is not going to meet demand. Even the proportion of demand it does meet will be at a terrific cost.”

Supply of pallets

The Irish timber sector, which employs 12,500 people and has a turnover of €2bn he said, is a huge timber exporter, while most of the construction and DIY trade here relies on Irish timber.

McAuley warned that as Irish timber is used in the pallet industry, there may be issues with the supply of pallets.

“Everything in the world moves on a pallet, from milk to medical equipment, and pallet manufacturers are getting worried.”

According to McAuley, the 2017 Forestry Act introduced the forestry appeals committee, which he says introduced basically an open system for appeals, with no fee or conditions around making an appeal.

“In about an hour you could stop every piece of forestry activity in the country if you wanted,” he said.

The Minister of State with responsibility for Land Use and Biodiversity Pippa Hackett has launched a public consultation on agricultural appeals, which if passed would see limitations around who can appeal forestry planting and felling licences, as well as introducing a fee for appealing.

McAuley described the proposed changes to the forestry appeals process as “fairly sensible”, but warned that it could be the end of the year before the new legislation is enacted.

The industry, he says, needs about six million cubic metres of saw log every year to keep it going. “This year we will hit about half of that.”
Mick Fahey, a harvesting contractor near Littleton, Thurles, says he’s had to sell a machine to keep afloat. Last year he cut 50,000-60,000t of timber, but this year hasn’t cut 10,000t yet.

“Up to the real objections we were getting a reasonable flow of licences out and could plan jobs. We now can plan nothing, we are criss-crossing the country for bits of jobs.”

“The Department is not processing licences fast enough for felling.

“Forestry is good for the country, we are getting clean air out of it. It should not be imported and there are jobs reliant on it. If it comes to it I will have to let go people and their expertise, which you will not get again. I have had to sell a machine out of the yard just to stay going. ”

Farmers are angry, he says, because they want to harvest and they can’t.

Indo Farming

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