Thursday, 22 February 2018

Ceisteanna (159)

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

159. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the number of afforestation applications which relate to areas of planting of 50 hectares or more and areas of planting less than 50 hectares, respectively; the number of screenings for environmental impact assessments that have been carried out; the number of actual environmental impact assessments that have been carried out; the applications by identification number for which an environmental impact assessment was carried out; the identification number for applications for which appropriate assessment was carried out; the number of hectares planted under the programme for broadleaf species, afforestation of non broadleaf species and reafforestation of non broadleaf species, in each year since the introduction of the new forestry programme 2014 to 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9053/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

The EIA Directive (meaning Directive 2011/92/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 December 2011 as amended by Directive 2014/52/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 April 2014) requires that certain types of development, including afforestation and forest road works, must be assessed to determine the likely environmental effect of the development, before a licence can be granted.

The licensing system operated by my Department, as set out in the Forestry Regulations 2017 (SI 191/2017), (“the Regulations”), provides for an environmental impact assessment (EIA) to be carried out in certain cases. An EIA is mandatory for initial afforestation involving an area of 50 hectares or more, and for forest road works involving a length of 2,000 metres or more. Applications for such projects must be accompanied by an environmental impact statement (EIS), to enable my Department to undertake the EIA. An EIS is an environmental impact assessment report satisfying the requirements of Article 5.1 of the EU Directive and prepared by competent experts. The information to be contained in an EIS is set out in Schedule 4 of the Regulations.

In addition, the Forestry Regulations 2017 provide that all proposed afforestation and forest road works below the mandatory thresholds must be screened for EIA, to consider whether or not significant effects on the environment are likely. This consideration must take into account criteria involving the characteristic of the project, its location, and the type and characteristics of the potential impact, as set out in Schedule 3 of the Regulations. Where it is considered that a proposed sub-threshold development is likely to have significant effects on the environment and should therefore be subject to an EIA, my Department requires the applicant to submit an EIS to enable the EIA to be undertaken.

EIA screening is an assessment undertaken by my Department as part of the normal procedure for evaluating the silvicultural and environmental suitability of a proposed development. The District Forestry Inspector undertakes EIA screening by responding to questions under the various headings: project description; existing land use; cumulative effect and extent of the project; water; soil; protection of Freshwater Pearl Mussel; archaeology; landscape; designated habitats; non-designated habitats; social; accidents; trans-frontier; public participation and NGO participation. This is supported by spatial analysis concerning the area of forest within various hinterlands of the proposed development. In undertaking the EIA screening, the Inspector uses information gained from their scrutiny of aerial photographs and various Geographic Information System (GIS) layers available in the IFORIS mapping system, combined with their knowledge gained through (inter alia ) field inspection (if required) and a review of referral responses (if any) received from consulted bodies, and submissions from third parties.

My Department has various options to address individual environmental concerns that arise in relation to a proposed forest development. For example, specific conditions, such as increased setbacks or exclusions, can be added to the licence, to avoid any impact. My Department may also seek further information in the form of an expert report in relation to, e.g. archaeology; potential Annex 1 habitats; concerns regarding groundwater; and address any potential impacts identified thorough licence conditions. Furthermore, my Department has incorporated several protocols into the assessment process, designed to avoid impact concerning particular sensitivities, e.g. surface water acidification; Hen Harrier; Curlew; Freshwater Pearl Mussel; and Small White Orchid.

Therefore, while the EIA screening process may identify potential environmental impacts, these can often be addressed on an individual basis and do not culminate in a significant environmental impact, which would otherwise trigger an EIA.

Since the introduction in 2015 of the Forestry Programme 2014-2020, to the end of December 2017, my Department has received 5,097 applications received under the Afforestation Grant and Premium Scheme, none of which was greater than 50 hectares. All of these applications underwent a sub-threshold EIA screening as a matter of course, and while various environmental issues were identified (and later resolved, as above), none of these represented a significant environmental impact. Therefore, no EIAs were triggered during this period. It should be noted that although 5,097 applications were received from 2015 to 2017, only 2,878 approved applications went forward to complete planting.

Regarding applications for which appropriate assessments were carried out the following are the identification numbers requested : CN75337, CN73964, CN73727, CN73105, CN73321 and CN77603.

Planting of broadleaf and coniferous species for 2015 and 2016, the last year in which such data is available, is indicated in the table below.

Broadleaf

Conifer

Total

2015

1,263.04

5,029.77

6,292.81

2016

1,270.30

5,229.50

6,499.80

With regard to the re-afforestation of coniferous species, my Department prepares the National Forest Inventory (NFI) every five years. The last NFI was completed in 2012 and the table below indicates the total reforested area by species group. Results from the current NFI are expected to be published in 2018.

Species Group

Area (ha)

%

Sitka spruce

87,835

55.9

Norway spruce

5,563

3.5

Scots pine

1,547

1

Other pines

8,540

5.4

Douglas-fir

3,896

2.5

Larch species

9,106

5.8

Other conifers

1,167

0.7

Sessile & Pedunculate oak

3,277

2.1

Beech

4,231

2.7

Ash

3,831

2.4

Sycamore

1,564

1

Birch species

9,880

6.3

Alder

2,274

1.4

Other long living broadleaves

3,443

2.2

Other short living broadleaves

11,229

7.1

Total

157,382

100

Question No. 160 withdrawn.