Tackling the backlog in forestry licenses remains a key priority for my Department and I am pleased to report significant progress has been made in the past year, particularly on felling and road licences.
The investment in resources and continual improvement has had a positive impact with a significant increase in licence output in recent months. This has brought our output to 3,894 licences issued to date this year. I am confident that we will meet our target of 4,000 licences by year end which will be a 60% increase on last year.
In terms of afforestation, outputs are not where I’d like them to be but there are signs of improvement. My Department is prioritising the assessment of afforestation licences on hand, using the same system as was applied to felling licences. Ten ecologists are now dedicated to afforestation, with more to be recruited. A tender has issued last week for additional ecological services to assist my Department. In addition to recruiting new staff, I am also reallocating existing Administrative, Forestry Inspectorate and Ecology resources to afforestation licensing files. I expect these changes to result in a higher level of output of afforestation licences than before.
We will build on this year’s momentum in 2022 and will implement any and all practical process improvements which result from the review and analysis in train under Project Woodland. I remain fully committed to delivering a licensing system which meets the needs of farmers and other land owners who wish to plant trees, as well as delivering for the wider forestry sector and society as a whole.