Impact of forestry project not properly assessed, court said
A challenge in the High Court to overturn licenses for a forestry project at a site in Co Offaly has been taken on grounds including the potential impact on the endangered Northern Harrier.
The site is in the Slieve Bloom Special Protection Area (SPA) for birds and it is claimed that the licenses lack measures to avoid disturbing the Northern Harrier, for which the area was designated under the guidelines. on habitats, or of the merlin, Ireland’s smallest raptor, as required by the Birds Directive.
Other reasons include the alleged lack of strategic environmental assessment and proper assessment of state-owned Coillte’s national forest planning.
The action concerns permits granted to Coillte to fell 11.71 hectares mainly of Sitka spruce at a site in Sheskin, Co Offaly, in the Clonaslee Forest, about 2.5 km from the village of Cadamstown, and to replant entirely cleared land with Sitka spruce trees.
Judge Charles Meenan has been informed that the logging operation has been carried out, but the applicants do not have a specific date for the site’s replanting program.
This week it authorized James Devlin SC, for environmentalist Peter Sweetman, of Rossport South, Ballina, Co Mayo, and environmental consultant Neil Foulkes, of Miskaun, Ballinamore, Co Leitrim, to initiate judicial review proceedings aimed at cancel licenses.
The lawsuits are directed against the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Marine, who granted the permits in May 2020, and the Forestry Appeals Committee (FAC), which upheld the minister’s decision last January. Coillte Teo is a wise party.
The licenses, issued under the Forestry Act of 2014, gave Coillte until December 31, 2020 to fell the 11.71 hectares of Sitka spruce and some existing broadleaf trees and plant trees of Sitka spruce on land cleared within two years of the end of harvesting.
In requesting permission, Mr Devlin said the site was located in an SPA for birds, but it appeared that respondents only considered historical records of St. Martin’s nests in the area and n had not contacted the National Parks and Wildlife Service regarding the current position.
It seems the position has been taken, if the NPWS raised an issue, respondents would do something about it, which is not the right approach, he said.
Other grounds for contestation allege failures in the selection and evaluation process and the absence of a Natura impact study, he stressed.
Since the FAC is appointed by and reports to the Minister, the applicants also claim that they have not been subject to an independent review of the merits of the licensing decisions, as required by the EU law.
In an affidavit, Mr. Foulkes stated that Mr. Sweetman had previously initiated proceedings to protect the Northern Harrier in the SPA and that both applicants participated in the appeals process regarding the licenses.
Coillte manages around 331 state-owned forests in Ireland, divided into six Business Area Units (BAU), he said. A strategic plan has been published for each BAU, but it appears that no strategic environmental assessment has ever been carried out on Coillte’s national forest planning and that no appropriate assessment has been carried out at the strategic planning level in accordance with to the Habitats Directive, he said.
The environmental impacts of this project, in combination with other plans and projects in the same forest or neighboring forests managed by Coillte and other loggers “have not been assessed correctly at all”, a- he declared.
A forest inspector did not explain the reasons for various findings, including the project area does not contain habitats or species listed as qualified special area of conservation interests in the absence of studies on the site specific fauna and when it is said that there is a direct route to SAC via streams or rivers, none of which have been investigated for the presence of otters, he said. declared.