The current forestry programme (2023-2027) will require an early midterm review, to address the crisis in afforestation, while felling licences are well down on previous years.

The process should begin now if the forestry and forest products sector can achieve annual targets even remotely close to the 8,000ha outlined in Ireland’s Climate Action Plan (ICAP) and the goals of the Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC).

This would allow the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) to adjust the current programme and the time to produce a comprehensive new forestry programme (2028-2032) for submission to the European Commission by the end of 2026.

It could then be agreed and promoted in 2027, and in operation in January 2028. This is just two years before forestry is expected to play a major role in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by at least 55%.

Lessons need to be learned from the disastrous delay in the current programme which should have been signed off in September 2022 but was still being debated by DAFM and DG ENV up until September last year. The reason for an early mid-term review are obvious from the results to date of DAFM’s forestry dashboard data.


Only 35 afforestation licences were issued for the five weeks in May, which is the lowest number of licences issued so far this year.

Fortunately, it represents the highest area of approvals as the average licence per applicant amounted to an exceptionally high 15ha instead of 7.5ha previously (Table 1). Licence sizes have fluctuated before but rarely achieve levels greater than 10ha, which if maintained would be a welcome development.

Licences issued for the first five months amounted to 1,731ha. Allowing for a 70% take-up, this should translate to 1,200ha of actual planting. Planting has now virtually ceased until November, so afforestation returns for 2024 will be paltry unless licence approvals dramatically increase including licences issued in the previous programme.

“DAFM has processed 164 applications [for] 1,339ha approved under the Forestry Programme 2014- 2020 that hadn’t commenced planting and have now opted into the new Forestry Programme 2023-2027,” said a DAFM spokesperson. These licences are now vital if a semblance of an afforestation programme is to be achieved.

Forest roads

Forest road licences issued during May amounted to 33km which brings the total up to 150km for five months. If this rate is maintained, roading should exceed 300km for the year compared with 293km in 2022 and 264km in 2021 which represents a solid performance.


Felling licences which have been increasing have slipped and are well down on 2022 and 2023. Felling licence trends are difficult to assess for a number of reasons. While private felling licences are evenly spread throughout the year, Coillte apply for licences in two to three month tranches, so overall monthly returns can vary widely throughout the year.

For example in January and February Coillte licence approvals well exceeded private licences in area – not necessarily in number. This is reflected in 4,701ha of licence approvals for the first two months – Coillte and private. Private licences dominated the following three months as average monthly approvals fell to 1,464ha.

Trends in approvals are thus going to be uneven depending on the ratio of private to Coillte licence approvals but total licences issued over a 12-month period should even out. Total licences issued for the first five months (9,075ha) are well down on the same period last year (16,113ha) and way below 2022 returns (20,203ha).

At this rate, licences could be in the region of 25,000ha this year. This represents a worrying trend as felling licences were issued for 33,416ha last year, down on 46,027ha in 2022. Licences should match the timber volume forecasts which are expected to increase year-on-year until the mid 2030s.

Against this background, the Minister’s insistence that felling licences are now sorted doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Afforestation and felling licences need to be prioritised in the mid-term review as the programme cannot be allowed to run its course at the current level of performance.

Companies and organisations representing the forestry and forest products sector maintain that the review should include the setting up of an independent State forestry development agency (FDA) to help formulate the next programme which begins in January 2028.

Noreen Barrett, new CEO of Western Forestry Co-op

Noreen Barrett, new CEO, Western Forestry Co-op.

Noreen Barrett has been appointed CEO of Western Forestry Co-op. A chartered accountant and fellow of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, she has been finance manager of Western Forestry Co-op since 2016.


“Noreen’s wealth of experience and commitment has been pivotal in the success of the co-op,” said Robert Hosey, chair of Western Forestry Co-op board said.“She knows the business of farm forestry well and understands the important role of Western Forestry Co-op as a leader in farm forestry,” said outgoing CEO Marina Conway. “Noreen has worked diligently as part of the senior management team in safeguarding the long-term economic and social strength of the Co-op during what has been a turbulent time in Irish forestry.”

Teagasc open day

Teagasc is holding an open day on Thursday 4 July in Oak Park, Carlow (R93 XE12) to promote aspects of forest research “to address the various challenges and opportunities in forestry and forest management in Ireland,” according to Liam Kelly, Teagasc.

“Attendees will be guided through many collaborative forestry research themes in the woodlands at Oak Park Research Centre,” he said.

Topics include:

  • Forest Carbon Research including forest carbon dynamics, and estimating forest carbon across diverse conditions.
  • Continuous Cover Forestry (CCF).
  • Broadleaf silviculture – remedial silviculture, coppicing and species mixtures.
  • Agroforestry, including attitudes, perceptions, and barriers to agroforestry uptake.
  • FitForests project – response of tree species to climate change.
  • Tree improvement research programmes for alder and birch.
  • ElmAsh: Genetic conservation of elms and ash in Ireland.
  • Further details at or contact Frances McHugh ( or 087 622 2111). Visitors should arrive anytime between 11am and 1pm for guided tours.