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25/09/2021

Local group challenges licence to plant Sitka Spruce "alien species" on Co Leitrim site

Local group challenges licence to plant Sitka Spruce "alien species" on Co Leitrim site

Forestry

A local environmental group has taken a High Court case aimed at quashing a licence for a forestry project in Co Leitrim involving planting 12 hectares with the “alien species” of Sitka Spruce.

Save Leitrim Environmental and Biodiversity Group CLG says it is concerned about “the detrimental impact of forestry and the monocultural planting of Sitka Spruce on the local communities”.

It claims such projects “completely obliterate" the landscape over a very wide area and “remove entirely the cultural landscape that had evolved over many centuries, if not millennia”.

Such planting has resulted in the “displacement of large number of the rural population” who “cannot comfortably live” with large tracts of afforested land which are “dark and foreboding”, “eliminate all life on the forest floor” and create “a damp and depressing atmosphere within the overall area”, it claims.

The social interaction necessary to sustain a rural population is “impossible in view of the physical and psychological impact of this planting”, it is argued. For reasons including forest lands comprise a higher commercial return than agricultural land, local people “cannot compete with forestry when it comes to building up sustainable farm sizes which could provide a reasonable standard of living”, it is claimed.

The group is also concerned about the impact on existing wildlife and ecosystems in the area which contains “some of the most important ecosystems anywhere within the EU”.

Those are now “under threat by the introduction of an alien species, Sitka Spruce”, it is claimed. The boundary of the Boleybrack Mountain Special Area of Conservation (SAC) is less than 1km from the proposed development while the Lough Gill SAC is located some 3.5km from the lands and is connected to them via the Scardan River into which the development lands will drain, it is claimed.

Evan O’Donnell BL, instructed by O’Connell Clarke Solicitors, for the group, secured leave this week from Ms Justice Niamh Hyland to bring judicial review proceedings concerning the licence issued to Barry O’Hagan for an afforestation project on a 13.34 hectare site at Meenimore, Dromahair, Co Leitrim.

The project proposes planting Sitka Spruce trees on 12 hectares, with an additional 0.5 hectares to be planted with Birch and other broad-leaved trees. The area around the dwelling house on the site will not be planted.

The proceedings are against the Forestry Appeals Committee, Ireland and the Attorney General, with Mr O’Hagan as a notice party.

The respondents, who were last year put on notice of the application, did not oppose the granting of leave and a hearing date for the full action will be fixed later.  

In the action, the group wants orders quashing the committee’s confirmation of the Minister’s decision of May 14th 2020 to issue the licence.

The ground of challenge include claims the committee failed to comply with obligations under the Habitats Directive, including to carry out an adequate Stage 1 screening and a State 1 screening  assessment in respect of the development.

The State respondents, it is claimed, failed to comply with obligations under European law to make regulations concerning provision of adequate and appropriate public notice, information, consultation with prescribed bodies and procedures for assessment. Those alleged failures, it is argued, mean there has not been appropriate transposition of the obligations of the Habitatas and Environmental Impact Assessment Directives.

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