On 4 November the Northern Ireland Assembly debated an Ulster Unionist motion noting the limited woodland creation target in the Programme for Government, and called on the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development to detail strategies for meeting the Northern Ireland 2006 forestry strategy commitment to double woodland cover in the next fifty years.
The UUP motion was timely as it highlighted some of the key issues facing policy on woodland conservation. In the chamber it was noted that Executive must consider both whether to reintroduce felling licences so as to protect existing woodland and how they can deliver on the target to double woodland cover in the next 50 years. In her response the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development, Michelle Gildernew, appeared to offer a strong hint that felling licences will be reintroduced. She also acknowledged that the rate of tree planting would have to increase three-fold to meet the previous woodland creation target.
We greatly appreciated both the raising of this motion and the support it received from all political parties. Like those in the chamber who supported the motion, we are now awaiting the new forestry act which we believe could offer a unique opportunity to deliver forest management fit for the challenges of the 21st century.