The Save Leitrim group
Commercial forestry has developed rapidly over the last 30-year period in Leitrim.
To date 19% of the total surface area of Leitrim is forested, making it Ireland's most heavily forested county. Nothing alters a landscape and a rural population more radically than large scale monoculture afforestation.
The Planning and Development Regulations 2001 were amended in September 2011 to provide that initial afforestation be exempted development thus subjecting applications for forestry to a separate statutory development consent system outside the county under the Forestry Regulations 2017.
National forestry policy described in the Food Wise 2025 policy document targeted a tripling from current planting rates of afforestation by 2021.
Given the current stresses on our rural Leitrim communities this could have a devastating local impact if unchallenged. This presents Leitrim County Council with significant land use planning challenges. Forestry land use policy in Leitrim is laid down in the County Development Plan. Leitrim County Council has a responsibility to protect people, biodiversity and environment in the way it manages forestry at the county level.
Under the existing forestry management policy Leitrim County Council require strict adherence by developers to the fisheries, archaeology, biodiversity, water quality, landscape, harvesting and environmental and protection guidelines published by the Forest Service but don’t monitor compliance.
While the council have indicated that they may publish guidance at county level they haven’t yet set out a specific local management document.
A renewed landscape character plan is proposed and a public consultation on forestry activity in the county has been carried out through the Public Participation Network.
Also, a review of the social and economic impacts of forestry in Leitrim is being carried out by UCD.
These initiatives and others will inform Leitrim County Council’s review of the County Development Plan in 2019, which will include a review of its forestry policy.
The review offers the council and the public an opportunity to balance local objectives in the public interest.
If elected to Leitrim County Council I will insist on a clear policy direction to be included in the County Development Plan to;
determine the maximum allowable commercial afforestation rate increase over the period of the plan in order to protect rural communities against over afforestation
protect and strengthen biodiversity levels by providing guidance on the location of where invasive monoculture tree species can or cannot be planted within the county so that forestry activity can be aligned with local landscape character objectives.
protect soil carbon stocks by preventing the plantation of forestry on existing carbon sinks where significant carbon stocks situated in these soils are likely to be released as a result of the development activity.
l Save Leitrim was founded by a group of like-minded people who have raised concerns about the detrimental impact Sitka spruce afforestation is having on the social and economic fabric of rural communities and the environment of County Leitrim.
“As a group, we have a voice but we will only be heard at national or EU level when the people of the townlands, villages and towns of County Leitrim join us and shout stop. The local people are seeing first hand the decimation of our communities with a massive increase in afforestation,” the group said.