Coillte has defended its decision to fell part of one of the last woodlands on the shores of Connemara's Lough Corrib. The forestry company has been licensed to remove 440 trees from Annagh wood, location of a children's cemetery and public right of way. The mature woodland is on a peninsula bounded by two bays on the lake's western banks, several miles from Oughterard, Co Galway.
Locals have expressed concern about the impact on the landscape, following similar tree felling on Inchagoill island south-west of Cong several years ago. They have questioned why no environmental impact assessment (EIA) has been carried out.
The Forest Service has confirmed that Coillte applied for a general felling licence, under the Forestry Act 1946, and it was granted "following consultation with National Parks and Wildlife Service, the county council, the relevant fisheries board and a site inspection by a Forest Service inspector". Coillte also says that every precaution will be taken to ensure that the children's cemetery is not affected by the felling, which will be "115 to 120 meters away at the closest point".
The licensed area comprises 3.8 hectares of conifer trees within 11.5 hectares of woodland, the Forest Service says.
"The management objective is to convert the woodland from a mixed conifer/broadleaf to mixed broadleaf woodland while retaining some Scots Pine that is the only native conifer tree." The area will be "replanted with a mixture of broadleaf trees", it says, and there is no requirement for an EIA. This is only mandatory for deforestation and conversion where the area is greater than 10 hectares of natural woodland or 70 hectares of conifer forest, the Forest Service says. "Should a particular felling operation require an assessment this can be requested, on a discretionary basis, by the Forest Service," it says, but in practice the consultation allows for approval if the service is "happy that no environmental threat is posed".
Brian O'Donnell, who lives at Gortdrishagh close to Annagh wood, said he was shocked at the decision. "For the sake of an estimated â‚¬40,000 which Coillte will get for these trees, it will remove the last significant wood in Lough Corrib,"he said.
Coillte says that local consultation took place on June 8th, 2006, but Mr O'Donnell said that he had not been contacted, in spite of the fact that he had been in touch with the company beforehand.
Â© 2007 The Irish Times 7.10.07
2.3 Agency questions State's forestry policy
The effectiveness of the State's tree-planting schemes to combat greenhouse gas emissions has been questioned by the European Environment Agency (EEA). According to the National Council for Forest Research and Development, Irish forests have a key role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The council is supported by the Department of Finance which said Irish forestry is worth more in reducing greenhouse gas emissions than it is for the timber value. But the EEA has claimed that up to 84 per cent of Irish forests between 1990 and 2000 were developed on peatland - a feature which releases substantial carbon and greenhouse gases which had already been sequestered in the peat.
The council, which was yesterday holding a one-day conference in Co Wicklow on the impact of forestry on climate change, acknowledged that forests on peatland released previously sequestered carbon. But chief executive Dr Eugene Hendrick rejected the EEA figures, insisting that just 28 to 29 per cent of Irish forestry in the years in question had been developed on peatland and the amount of forestry being established on peatland was being reduced.
Asked if he could explain the wide difference in assessments of the amount of peatland-based forestry, Dr Hendrick said the European figures were incorrect. Irish figures were superior because they were "national figures compiled on the ground" with the aid of site visits. EEA figures were compiled at a distance, he said.
But Jean Louise Weber, of the Spatial Analysis Group in the EEA, said the EEA figures were checked twice for his report, Revision of the Assessment of Forest Creation and Afforestation in Ireland. Mr Weber said afforestation on peat bogs ranged up to 84 per cent of the total afforestation for the period 1990-2000.
Â© Irish Times 20.09.07
Madam, - This is National Tree Week and the environmental lobby group Friends of the Irish Environment is calling for a change in Irish forestry policy to reflect our commitment to biodiversity and the need to take account of the EU habitats directive for conserving native flora and fauna.
Around the country various groups and organisations are planting native species of trees.These are especially important for biodiversity because they have developed over hundreds of years in a symbiotic relationship with other plants, insects, birds and animals. Native woodlands are habitat to thousands of other species, whereas coniferous plantations only host a handful.
Meanwhile, however, the national afforestation programme does not even mention native species and the State forestry company, Coillte, continues to plant and replant non-native Sitka spruce on the pretext that, on most poor or marginal land, it is "commercially viable" and native trees are not. This is a fallacy - Coillte thinks only in terms of monoculture plantations.
This kind of policy is reflected in the new Forest Environment Protection Scheme (FEPS) which, although it appears to encourage biodiversity, still gives the option of 80 per cent Sitka spruce with 5 per cent non-native larch, leaving just 15 per cent for biodiversity - which usually means a few birch and alder around the edges.
This is a poor contribution indeed, suggesting that FEPS is just an election stunt aimed at votes from farmers.
Part of the reason for current policy is that the Government is pressurised by timber product manufacturers, who only want fast-growing softwoods for wood-pulp, chipboard, etc. No account is taken of the benefits of "continuous-cover" native woodland which is a haven for wildlife, a stimulating amenity for locals and visitors, a scenic part of the landscape, an important educational resource and a source of valuable hardwood timber for a range of uses providing work for traditional craftspeople.
Once a native woodland is established, it provides on-going economic benefit far in excess of that from coniferous plantations which need fertilisers and pesticides and, excluding government grants, yield an income only every 25 to 30 years when they are clear-felled, causing environmental damage due to release of phosphates from the soil.
If Irish taxpayers are to avoid more heavy fines from Europe, then national forestry policy must change to include a high percentage of native trees. Further information on all the above can be found on the website www.celtnet.org. - Yours, etc,
BOB WILSON, CELT (Centre for Environmental Living and Training), c/o East Clare Community
Mary Coughlan's last fling - Lets Coillte keep illegal €8 million payment. May 2007
A Eagarthóir, a chara
Over the years, I have written extensively about the €8 million of EU funded Farmer Forestry Premiums paid illegally to Coillte by the Forestry Division of the Department of Agriculture
Briefly, an EU Scheme in the mid -'90s provided Forestry Premiums at a high rate and for an extended period to farmers only. Coillte, though patently not a farmer, applied for the Premiums. Without batting an eyelid, Forestry paid Coillte €8 million and promised a further €12 million. However, within a short period a very bright young female civil servant questioned the legality of the payments. Those who supported her incurred the wrath of senior Forest Service civil servants favourably disposed to Coillte; the power of a "Corporate Cupán Tae"!
In due course the EU Commission found out about the hijacking of its funds and demanded that the Department refund the €8 million. The pro-Coillte lobby within the Department rejected the Commission's demand and wasted our money in taking a case to the European Court of Justice. Needless to say, the Commission won and the Department had to repay the €8 million – and costs.
Even to this very day, the Minister for Agriculture has not recouped the €8 million from Coillte which with compound interest amounts to, circa, €10 million. Successive Ministers have parroted meaningless answers to PQs asked by the Green Party.
Mary Coughlan has been Minister for Agriculture for the past three years and her answers to PQs have been quite bizarre. Eighteen months ago she implied that the Minister for Finance was delaying the collection of the money, next she seemed to cast doubts on the verdict of the European Court of Justice and more recently, she "kicked to touch" and requested a "Strategic Review" of Coillte. But she never demanded that Coillte cough-up. This is the same Mary Coughlan who when Minister for Social Welfare issued rafts of Press Releases saying how she had put manners on minor dole dodgers and petty abusers of the Social Welfare system.
A few months ago I sent an FOI to the Department of Finance as a write-off of the illegal payments would need Minister for Finance approval. I got lots of records but nothing to show that Mary Coughlan had ever raised the issue with Finance. The most recent correspondence is a letter from Joe Walsh, the then Minister for Agriculture, before he jumped ship in 2004. Is there still a pro-Coillte lobby?
The records released by Finance are most revealing. For instance - a veiled threat from Forestry Division that Coillte might sue if it had to repay the money. Also Forestry Division was trying to find a formula to leave the money with Coillte; a forerunner to the recent request for a "Strategic Review of Coillte". A real nugget was an email from a Principal Officer, Department of Finance, which reads "Why in God's name did they [Coillte] not make certain of this [legality] before forking out €63 million [to buy land]?"
In reality the illegal payments with accumulated interests is an Illegal State Aid of €10 million to Coillte. This free money has helped to pay the bonuses of Coillte executives. Just think of all the Hospital Beds that could be got for €10 million.
Mary Coughlan's term as Minister for Agriculture is coming to an end but will any Minister ever tackle Forestry abuses?
I have covered this subject in both Gaeilge and Béarla on national and community radio. It can be heard in Béarla as a PODCAST on NEAR90.3fm by following the link below.
Le gach dhea ghuí,
Éamonn Ó Flannagáin, ACMA
Fianna Fail-sponsoring and making a product that nobody wants-or ever will want.-with taxpayers funds!!
Never having to say you -and your policies-are wrong.
If you go down to the woods today you're in for a big surprise for it seems the Irish timber industry is facing serious problems - and that's a according to a report published on the internet by Friends of the Irish Environment.
The Pat Kenny Show
RTE Radio 1
Thursday 16 January 2003
Pat Kenny, Presenter
Pat Lehane, Chairman, Forestry Section, The Irish Farmer's Association
Tony Lowes, Friends of the Irish Environment
PK: If you go down to the woods today you're in for a big surprise for it seems the Irish timber industry is facing serious problems - and that's a according to a report published on the internet. Friends of the Irish Environment claim its contents were revealed only after they pressed for details under the Freedom of Information Act. Joining us to discuss these developments, Tony Lowes of Friends of the Irish Environment and Pat Lehane, National Chairman of the Farm Forestry Section of the IFA. Good Morning.
Tony you got the documents you required under the Freedom of Information Act so what's the problem?
TLowe: We also put in a request under the Freedom of Information Act to see why the Report wasn't published because they denied us a number of documents and they said they wouldn't release them until the Report was published. So we went into the records of this Report which was presented to the Minister last December.
The first memo that appears on the file is a note for the Tanaiste saying in February that the Tanaiste would formally launch the Report in March. There is big sloppy handwriting in the margin saying "Yes" which I assume is from the Minister.
Next on the paper files appears a letter from the man who I think is speaking to us this morning. Do you remember writing this letter, Pat?
PLehane: I do indeed.
TLowe: In this you said that the Chief Executives Forum which was proposed was "certainly not an option" and that you were afraid that the "launch of this report would do little to inspire confidence in potential farm foresters and existing growers?
PLehane: That's that's - well…
PKenny: Are you saying that Pat actually succeeded in suppressing this report?
TLowe: Well the next record as the tale goes on is a meeting between - I don't think Pat was at this - it was your secretary of the IFA …
PLehane: What meeting is this now?
TLowe: The Tainiste had a short meeting with the Frank Fahey, the Minister for Marine and Natural Resources at 7 PM on the 17th of April. Minister Fahey was accompanied by the Secretary of the Irish Farmer's Association." These arguments were put forward again and the Tanaiste said "No immediate decision need be taken on this matter and she would consult privately with Minister Fahey."
PKenny: Anyway the bottom line is that almost a year later the Report is out there because you got it and you put it on the internet. Why is it is such a bombshell that people might not have wanted it to be published?
TLowe: I think it's the first authoritative analysis of what is facing the current growing policy. We're in a really serious situation. I don't think its wrong to call this a "Doomsday Report". The timber that is coming out there is no market for, the Baltic States are coming in, our quality is not there. The only bright spark is that we could set up biomass generators around the country and burn it. But for sure no farmers should be planting any more.
PKenny: That particular scenario, the biomass generation of power or whatever or even using it as starter for a fermentation process - that is something that down the road farmers may be queuing up to supply.
TLowe: Well there's going to be a lot of them queuing up from the forecasts in these reports - and some of the comments on the forecasts. People were really astonished when they saw the amount of residue that is going to be left.
PKenny: What's the problem? If there is no money in it then farmers and other investors will have to do something else!
TLowe: Absolutely, absolutely. Economics are the bottom line.
PKenny: Ok. Pat Lehan. What is your problem with this Report? I mean it does suggest there are no markets there, you'll be swamped with timber from the Baltic States of higher quality…
PKenny: That the thinning that you have only a certain amount will be absorbed by the local timber composites market…
PLehane: Look I'm amazed that this is a news item today because this document while it hasn't been officially launched it has been in the public domain with - look - probably 12 months - we have issued Press Releases about it - it has been covered by some of the Press - some of the Press didn't bother - some of the people didn't bother reading it - its 70 pages.
PKenny: It's a very repetitive document, I have to say, having read…
PLehane: Look we agree with most of what's in it. We have a problem with solutions and I think the document highlights problems but it doesn't actual give solutions. Now we're amazed that it's a news item today because we've highlighted this at the Society of Foresters conference, at the IFA forestry conference, this is going back months - probably 12 months - at a UCD conference I spoke there and I've highlighted it…
PLehane: Even before the report came out we've been highlighting some of the problems…
PKenny: Ok Tony…
TLowe: Pat we've written to both Ministers asking them to launch this report. Would you change your mind about this and agree with us and write to the Minister and ask her to publish the Report properly so that the farmers can find out what's really going on?
PLehane: Well we're not concerned of the Report is actually launched or not. What we're more concerned about is that solutions are found. Ok, there are problems with marketing every product, whether it is milk or beef or whatever and you don't - just because you produce something it doesn't mean there's a market there automatically for it.
PKenny: Isn't it a problem with forestry that the maturation period even for thinning is on a different cycle than say beet production so therefore if I invest today I mightn't find I had made a mistake, unless I had the proper analysis I mightn't find I had made a mistake for five or six years or maybe even longer and then I'm stony broke.
PLehane: Nobody is going to be able to predict what is going to be the market in 40 or 50 years time when this crop is going to be ready.
PKenny: Even for thinning and so on…
PLehane: What we do know if is we don't try and manage the market and try and have a proper structure there for marketing and managing this product then we will have a problem. So effectively what IFA are looking for is that we have a proper structure set up, that we have a body set up probably like Bord Bia that will actually look at the problem and deal with it. There is a market for timber there will always be a market for timber, it is actually growing…
PKenny: But it might not be an economic market - you can get rid of it but don't…
TLowe: Listen to what the Irish Timber Growers Association said actually say in their comment to the Minister on just the residues alone: " It could be pointed out that with 600,000 cubic meters of a projected surplus of pulpwood and residues by 2005, (see page 58 and 60) and the further projected increase from forest - excluding resides - by 2015 of almost 700.000 cubic meters - a total projected surplus of 1.3 million cubic meters is possible by 2015. Incredibly, this serious potential surplus has not been addressed in this report."
PLehane: Look it's a balance between having the processing for the product and having the product available. No one is going to set up a processing unit or whatever unless the product is there - until such time as that product comes on stream. What has happened historically is that as the product has come on stream, then the processing unit has developed.
PKenny: Ok I want to ask Tony Lowes finally, is your solution to stop doing these typical commercial crops like Sitka spruce and move to traditional Irish woods? Is that where the Friends of the Irish Environment are coming from.
TLowe: Pat we've spent three years trying to get funds to demonstrate the short term economic potential of broadleaves - now were not talking about 80 or 100 years - we're talking about 15 and 20 years, we're talking about new techniques of laminating and finger jointing, we're talking about the value of alder - we're talking about the value of birch! And this is not happening because the current Government policy sets a target of 20,000 hectares a year of this kind of conifers - and until that is changed, until the Minister readdress the 1996 Forestry Plan, we're all at sea.
PKenny: Is your message to the farmers that they can make money doing the other thing?
TLowe: No, until we have the research we can't promise them anything but we believe its there, its there in other countries, there's no reason we can't make it work in Ireland.
PKenny: So this is a plea for that research to be done?
TLehane: And to re-examine that forestry development plan…
PKenny: We'll leave it there. Tony Lowes and Frank Lehane, thank you very much.
LORD Waterford has urged the High Court to order Coillte to hand over lands worth €7.75m for allegedly allowing the estate fall into serious disrepair in breach of the terms of its lease. (March 2007)
The cost of repair works to the walls and roads on the 1,900-acre Curraghmore lands in Co Waterford now amounts to €10.5m.
Justice Peter Kelly yesterday granted an application by Curraghmore Estates, of which Lord Waterford is a director, to enter proceedings against Coillte Teoranta into the list of the Commercial Court, the commercial division of the High Court.
Curraghmore Estates is seeking an order for possession of the entire 1,900-acre Curraghmore Demesne, described by Lord Waterford as significant both in terms of its architectural heritage and its ecology.
In an affidavit, Lord Waterford, of Curraghmore, Portlaw, said the lands were the subject of a 150-year lease made on November 15, 1933 between John Charles de la Poer, the Seventh Marquis of Waterford, and the Minister for Agriculture.Under the Forestry Act 1988, the benefit of the lease became vested in Coillte from January 1, 1989.
Under the lease, Coillte was required to adequately maintain and repair all walls, ditches, drains, roads and pathways on the estate but, in serious and persistent breach of the lease, had failed to do so, he said.
As a result, the estate walls in particular had fallen into a state of considerable disrepair.
Correspondence between Curraghmore Estates and Coillte from 1989 demonstrated continuing difficulties in trying to get Coillte to comply with its obligations, he said.
He engaged a firm of consulting engineers. Coillte was given the firm's report on January 14, 2005, which concluded that there was extensive damage to the estate walls and to the roads. The repair costs were estimated to be €10.5m.
Coillte had failed to carry out the works specified in the report, he said. A forfeiture notice was served on April 21, 2005, which required Coillte to remedy the breaches of lease within 20 months. While some repair works were carried out, these were "substandard" and did not comply with the notice, Lord Waterford said. The proceedings to recover possession of the lands were then initiated.
Promises to carry out repairs were made at various times but not honoured and he had become 'increasingly frustrated" by Coillte's procrastination.
He had secured legal advice in September 2004 and engaged a firm of consulting engineers to report on the conditions of the estate. The report concluded there was very extensive damage to the internal and external estate walls and to the roads.
The environment and economy both suffer from the way forestry, a key natural resource, is being developed here, writes Fintan O'Toole
NOW THAT the boom is over, we have to reflect on two questions. What resources do we have? And how can we use them in a way that is both economically and environmentally sustainable?
These are pretty basic questions - but in the euphoria of the last decade, we've pretty much ignored them. The madness that has resulted is probably best illustrated by the example of forestry.
Here's a simple fact: the State is refusing to take EU money for forestry.
Under the EU's Rural Development Fund, member states can apply for 80 per cent grants for afforestation. With just 10 per cent of its land under forest - the lowest percentage in the EU - Ireland has the most obvious need for this funding.
Sure enough, Ireland's draft submission to the development fund contained a proposal for a large-scale afforestation programme. But, bizarrely, this proposal was entirely dropped when the final submission was made. The decision was taken that, instead of getting 80 per cent of the cost from the EU, the State would provide Irish farmers with 100 per cent grants for forestry.
Why on earth would we be doing this? There are two probable answers. One is that the 100 per cent grant scheme delivers larger subsidies to farmers, with less need to justify spending. Since no one has to come up with the other 20 per cent of the cost, there's no need to ask about the long-term viability or sustainability of what's being done.
But the other reason is that the EU money would come with some strings attached. There would have to be proper standards of environmental management and accountability.
If you get EU money to plant trees, you have to submit to annual independent monitoring of the effects on, for example, the quality of water in lakes and rivers. (Inappropriate planting acidifies water courses and leads to the overuse of polluting chemicals.)
The names of those receiving grants have to be placed in the public domain. And the State is supposed to have a set of published standards for the proper management of the forests.
And why would the Government not want all of these worthy things? Because it has failed to apply any serious notion of either sustainability or accountability to the development of forestry policy. It established Coillte 20 years ago as the largest landowner in Ireland, but gave it a purely short-term commercial mandate.
Bizarrely, Coillte (whose only shareholders are the ministers for finance and agriculture) proclaims itself a private company, with no obligations under, for example, the Freedom of Information Act. Coillte's policy has been to cover the 1.1 million acres it owns with cheap, low-grade, non-native sitka spruce which, with other imported conifers, make up 77 per cent of its stock.
According to its last published annual report, for 2006, it planted 8,621 hectares, just 117 of them with native trees.
In economic terms, this means that Ireland, which has some of the world's best conditions for growing trees, is locked in to the mass production of very basic timber.
In environmental terms, the consequences are even worse. The landscape is covered with an ugly and unnatural monoculture that has disastrous effects on biodiversity. These forests are then clear-felled - an industrial process that leaves acidic soil, stripped of nutrients and subject to the kind of erosion and landslides that are becoming semi-regular events.
And if the profit margins are too low, Coillte simply sells off forested land to private companies - Shell in Co Mayo, for example. In 2006, it sold 373 hectares of forest to private developers, mostly for housing and other commercial activities. It further declared its intention to step up the sale of its lands to "key industry participants" for quarrying.
So while the State is giving farmers grants to turn farmland into forests, the State forestry agency is balancing its books by turning forestry into development land.
Coillte will reply to all of this by pointing out that it has a certificate of good forestry management, valid until 2011, issued by the Forestry Stewardship Council. The problem is that, under EU agreements to which Ireland is a party, stewardship council certification is supposed to be conducted according to a written set of standards.
In 1999, the government created a working group to establish these standards. Almost a decade on, they still don't exist. If they did, and if they were being applied, the State wouldn't be afraid to take EU money for fear that the EU might expect it to be spent on sustainable projects.
A decade ago, in Economics of Irish Forestry, Prof Peter Clinch questioned the whole logic of investing large-scale public funds in a forestry development project characterised by "poor quality of information", "the lack of an effective monitoring procedure of the location and extent of the afforestation", and "the lack of any ex-post evaluation to ascertain the effectiveness" of environmental guidelines.
Over the summer, Brian Cowen appointed Peter Clinch as his adviser on the economy. As an example of what's gone wrong, the professor could do worse than tell the Taoiseach a bit about trees.
© 2008 The Irish Times