The situation with forestry licensing is a key priority for the Department, as well as for me and Minister of State Pippa Hackett who has responsibility for the sector. I fully understand the seriousness of the situation with many landowners in terms of the delays encountered and the various supply issues with the sector and Minister of State Hackett and I are engaging intensively with all parties to try to resolve the issues.
Many measures have been put in train to progress felling licences within the Department. Approximately 75% of homegrown roundwood that is processed by the sawmills in Ireland comes from Coillte forests and approximately 25% from private forests and it is therefore important that both Coillte and the private sector have sufficient licences to harvest and supply the sawmills. I can report that Coillte is fully licensed for this year.
In relation to the private sector supply we have increased substantially the number of felling licences in recent months due to several system improvements and continued investment in ecology resources. This resulted in June being the highest month for private felling licences in over 5 years.
To date this year (9th July), 1,836 forestry licences have issued – 1,164 tree felling; 308 afforestation and 364 forest road works licences. This represents 40% of the target of 4,500 licences to issue in 2021. The afforestation licences cover 2,695ha of potential new forestry. This is an increase of 21% on the area licensed to the same date in 2020 and a 5% increase in the number of afforestation licences issued.
Forest road works licence covering 151km of forest roads have issued to date. This far exceeds the Climate Action Plan target for 2021 of 125km of forest roads licensed.
The volume of tree felling licences issued has also increased substantially and is 77% ahead of the same point last year. A total volume of 3.594 million cubic metres has been licensed which is a very encouraging figure.
As part of Project Woodland we are examining all options. This includes an end to end review of our systems and processes to be carried out by an external systems analyst that has already started work on this review. In addition, a review of our legal and regulatory processes will be carried out. This review, to be carried out by an independent expert, will include an examination of experiences in other Member States in licensing forestry activities and how they comply with EU legislation. And from this what lessons we can bring in to our licensing systems.
It is of course essential that any regulatory changes fully comply with EU law.
I would also like to remind the Deputy that I and previous Ministers have brought in significant legislation in order to assist with the ongoing situation in the forestry sector. This includes SI 31 of 2020 that amongst other things allowed the Department to carry out Appropriate Assessments without the requirement of a Natura Impact Statement from the applicant. Also as you are aware SI 417 of 2020 and SI 418 of 2020 was signed into law and we brought in to primary legislation commencing the Forestry (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2020 to bring in a range of measures largely to allow for a more efficient running of the Forestry Appeals Committee and to bring our systems in line with the planning process.
Overall, we are making progress and I am hopeful that we can maintain this momentum.