The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) of the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht is the competent authority for the designation of Natura sites, including Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas.
Article 6(3) of the Habitats Directive sets out the requirement for Appropriate Assessment (AA) in relation to Natura sites. It reads:
Any plan or project not directly connected with or necessary to the management of the site but likely to have a significant effect thereon, either individually or in combination with other plans or projects, shall be subject to appropriate assessment of its implications for the site in view of the site's conservation objectives. In light of the conclusions of the assessment of the implications for the site and subject to the provisions of paragraph 4, the competent national authorities shall agree to the plan or project only after having ascertained that it will not adversely affect the integrity of the site concerned and, if appropriate, after having obtained the opinion of the general public.
This requirement is transposed into Irish law mainly through S.I. No. 477/2011 (Section 5). Recent rulings from the European Court of Justice and Irish courts have clarified various aspects of Article 6(3), and consenting authorities must conform to these rulings.
Any application for a forestry licence under the Forestry Act, 2014 is regarded as a “project”. The area where the proposed activity (and ancillary operations) is to take place, is the “project area”. My Department is the competent authority in the assessment of forestry licence applications and must be sure that the project meets the exacting requirements set out under Article 6(3).
All forestry licence applications undergo Appropriate Assessment screening, which takes account of the conservation objectives of any Natura site proximate to the project. As a prescribed body, NPWS is asked to provide their comments on a forestry licence application that falls within or is near to a Natura site. Their comments are considered as part of the assessment of that application.
It has not been possible to compile the information requested in the short time available. The data will be forwarded to the Deputy as soon as possible.