Whilst all the headlines this week have been dominated by the meeting of World Leaders at the G8 in Enniskillen, a truly momentous change has happened in Northern Ireland, restoring much-needed protection to the Province’s unique woodland heritage. On 17 June, Felling Licences were re-introduced for the first time in almost 45 years, following a very long campaign by the Woodland Trust and our members in Northern Ireland.
In the late 1960s, a decision was made in Northern Ireland to abandon the need for felling licences, leading to five decades where communities were powerless to prevent destruction to the trees and woods they loved. Over this period Northern Ireland lost 13% of woodlands that were in existence in 1830. In many cases, hundreds of trees were felled across land that then lay dormant, creating a double injury. The decision to scrap proper legal protection for woods is even more disgraceful when you bear in mind that the Province is bottom of the European league table when it comes to woodland, with tree cover of only 7%.
Over the past 15 years, since our early days in Northern Ireland, the Woodland Trust has campaigned and lobbied hard to convince Government of the need to reintroduce proper felling controls to bring the Province back in line with the rest of the UK. A significant step was our considerable success in getting Felling Licences enacted in primary legislation, as part of the NI Forestry Act 2009.
This week, our long campaign was brought to fruition with the launch of a new felling regime for Northern Ireland. Under the new regulations, licences are now required for the felling of all woodlands over 0.2ha, baring a few exceptions. When the legislation was completed in May, the Agriculture Minister, Michelle O’Neill noted the important significance of this historic change:
“Forestry is of international importance because of concerns about the global impact of deforestation on climate, and loss of biodiversity. I believe that the implementation of the felling legislation will go a long way in meeting our obligation to promote woodlands, and their management, in a way that contributes sustainably to the diverse needs of current and future society.”
I would like to end by paying tribute to our 9,000 members in Northern Ireland for helping us to apply pressure to make this happen over such a long period, as well noting the important contribution of Minister O’Neill and the NI Agriculture and Rural Development Committee for helping restore the very basic legal protection our trees and woods need to survive and thrive in the Province. Thank You.
Steve Mulligan, Government Affairs Officer (Northern Ireland)