MP wants ‘fundamental review’ of Forest Service

MP wants ‘fundamental review’ of Forest Service

13 October 2021

THE Forest Service has this week been accused of failing to modernise, with South Down MP Chris Hazzard calling for a “fundamental review” of its operation.

He claimed that such a move is necessary in “light of the cascading ecological crisis” and the Forest Service’s failure to modernise how it operates.

The MP confirmed that he has written to Stormont agriculture and environment minister Edwin Poots highlighting what he described as the “negative impact” of the Forest Service business model in areas like South Down, where large plantations are regularly cleared for timber. 

Mr Hazzard suggested that for many observers, it appears that the Forest Service exist merely to capitalise on the felling and production of timber, with limited capacity to focus on increasingly important areas of work such as the climate and biodiversity emergency.

The MP declared: “In short, the model of planting lines of non-native monoculture before clear felling entire plantations should be resigned to the past. 

“This outdated practice robs large woodland areas of their forest ecosystem and makes them increasingly vulnerable to soil erosion, and consequently the pollution of nearby rivers.”

Mr Hazzard said one example of this is the large plantation recently cleared at the foot of Slievenamaddy and Slieve Commedagh in the Mournes. 

He claimed that not only has this left the busy walking trail alongside the Glen River dangerous to walk for inexperienced visitors but, increasingly, vulnerable to erosion in the time ahead as the weather becomes more inclement during the autumn and winter. 

Mr Hazzard said he has reminded Mr Poots that this ‘clear felling’ model is no longer used throughout Europe, with forestry bodies instead continuously ‘thinning’ on a rotation basis, thereby allowing woodland areas and their delicate ecosystems to flourish.

The MP continued: “Mixed forest areas, including a much larger native woodland covering, not only aids our efforts to address the biodiversity crisis, but importantly allows greater protection from flooding and erosion. 

“As we know from recent flooding incidents in areas like Newcastle, increasing flood risk can be effectively met with nature based solutions like native woodland.”

Mr Hazzard said that together with wet peat areas, they have a great capacity to retain both water, and CO2,  providing much-needed natural defences against flooding and carbon emissions in the decades to come. 

The MP added: “I hope Minister Poots and the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs understand that the current, extractive Forest Service model is no longer viable.

“Now is the time to overhaul the Forest Service and reset the vision and operating model of the organisation for the future.”