PRESS RELEASE

FRIENDS OF THE IRISH ENVIRONMENT

23 MAY 2016

 

FELLING STOPPED IN ANCIENT WOODLAND

 

The Department of Agriculture has informed an environmental group that all forestry felling work is being halted at Castleforbes Estate, County Longford until the end of the season protecting birds and wildlife on 1 September, 2016.

 

After a complaint from Friends of the Irish Environment [FIE] on 4th April 2016 to the Forest Service, operations were ceased on site but were resumed 10 days later after an official inspection.

 

FIE then wrote to the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Rural Affairs, and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphries, TD, the Minister in charge of the Parks and Wildlife Service [NPWS], accusing the Department of using ‘double standards’, highlighting the recent judgement by Judge Seamus Hughes of the Longford District Court who fined two men €250 for destroying vegetation during the closed period imposed to protect birds and other wildlife between March 1 and August 31.

 

'Farmers are rightly required to go to considerable lengths to ensure they do not cut hedgerows during the closed period, even to incurring additional cost for machinery equipped to deal with wet land, while the Department's own Forest Service issued two felling licenses at the historic Castleforbes Estate in County Longford without any restrictions for nature conservation.’

 

Documents released to FIE from the NPWS under Access to Information on the Environment show that the original 2015 licence was for thinning only for ‘firewood’ with a condition prohibiting the felling of oaks. However, a Report drafted by the NPWS in response a Parliamentary Question by James Bannon, TD on 2 December 2015 revealed that ‘most beech’, ‘some ash’, and ‘some oaks’ were in fact removed, stating ‘most oaks trees selected were between 60 and 80 years old, with the occasional older tree.’ The Deputy never received the promised response to his Parliamentary Question.

 

 

Local NPWS staff only became aware of new 2016 licenses when felling began in February of this year and were not consulted during the license application process by the NPWS administration. The NPWS District Conservation Officer wrote that he ‘totally agreed’ with the local staff who felt ‘undermined and embarrassed by the manner in which this application was handled by the NPWS’. He urged the Regional Manager to contact the Forest Service ‘in the hope that we can moderate the damage and deflect the bad publicity that will certainly be directed at us.’

 

A request from the local NPWS staff for permission to stop the felling was denied by the Regional Manager of NPWS, who stated that ‘NPWS cannot stop such works and that is in the remit of the Forest Service.’

 

As work continued further into the restricted season, NPWS issued a recommendation under Regulation 4 of the Forestry Consent and Assessment Regulations to the Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service requesting that a condition be placed on the licence preventing work during the restricted season. The letter was sent 24 April 2016. It was resent on 8 May as work had not ceased.

 

In his response to FIE’s letters, the Minister’s Private Secretary wrote on 18 May, 2016 that the Forest Service did not require an assessment before granting the licences because it was determined at the screening stage ‘that the proposed work would not have a significant effect on either the Special Area of Conservation under the Habitats Directive or the Special Protection Area for Birds.

 

NPWS made a full ecological survey a condition of the licenses but the records show that this was dropped for ‘lack or resources’ While the NPWS had made an ecological survey a condition for the original licence, the files show that this was never undertaken due to a ‘lack of resources’.

 

The documents released from the NPWS show that the Parks and Wildlife Service have confirmed two breeding buzzards, suspected breeding woodpeckers, bats, badgers, pine martens, breeding red squirrels, breeding ravens and many other species of breeding countryside birds (black cap, mistel thrush, etc,)’ with ‘merlin recorded on the bog adjoining the woodland.’

 

The letter of 18 May from the Minister for Agriculture informs the group that it has been agreed on the ground between the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Forest Service that felling will be suspended until September.

 

Tony Lowes of FIE said that while ‘the files show the owners of the Estate wish to reinstate the woodland to as close to primeval woodland as possible, under the guise of ‘Continuous Forest Cover’ and ‘Low Impact Silivicutural System’, these unique woodlands are actually being stripped of specimen redwoods, oaks, and ash of the finest quality and the wildlife decimated through a breakdown in the nature conservation system in Ireland.’

 

‘Ireland is a repeat offender when it comes to failure to assess impact on SACS. The EU Court of Justice has ruled against Ireland before on very similar issues and the Commission will be very unimpressed to see the law flouted and the environment blatantly damaged in this way.’

 

ENDS

 

Contact: Tony Lowes 353 (0)87 2176316  /  353 (0)27 74771

Letter from the Minister confirming work stopping

 

Letter to the Minister for Agriculture

/images/pdf/ministercastleforbes_07.05.16_MC.pdf

Letter to the Minister for Heritage

/images/pdf/ministercastleforbes_11.05.16_HH_final.2016.pdf

 

 

Removed hedgerow and trees from land

 

Two men who appeared at last week’s sitting of Longford District Court charged under the wildlife Act were convicted and fined €250.

Johnathan McCord, Clonturk, Longford, and Joe Sheahan, Ferefad, Longford appeared before Judge Seamus Hughes charged with destroying vegetation on land at Ferefad, Longford, on April 10 2015.

The closed season with regard to such matters is between March 1 and August 31, the Court heard.

Ms Moles a ranger with the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) told the Court in her direct evidence that on the date in question she visited the area and observed a machine on the land.

She said she rang a phone numb which was on the side of the machine and spoke to Johnathan McCord whom she added 'turned out to be the owner of the machine.'

'There was 2km of hedgerow taken out on the land at the weekend', continues the ranger.

Mr. McCord told me that he had done the work at the request of Mr. Sheehan.

'He knew about the closed season but went ahead and did it anyway', she claimed.

The Court heard that Mr. Sheehan had recently acquired the land in question and after a cow had gotten stuck in a drain he had decided to remove the hedgerow altogether.

'They also removed areas of scrub and bulldozed the trees that were there as well,' added Ms Moles, who then pointed out that when she spoke to Mr. McCord he agreed to stop the works immediately.

'He asked if it was ok to clear away the debris and I said that was fine.'

The Court then heard that Ms Moles contacted Mr. Sheehan and asked to meet him at the site.

She said he fully cooperated with her and explained that when the cow had gotten stuck in the drain she had become paralysed as a result of the trauma suffered and was also in calf at the time.

He said he had recently purchased the land and that nothing had been done with it for the last 25 years a.' Ms Moles added.

In mitigation, the defendants' solicitor Tina Dolan said that after the cow got stuck in the drain, Mr. Sheehan became determined the 'clean up' the site. '

The animals on the farm are special in that they are trained for dealing with people who are vulnerable', continued Ms Dolan who then pointed out that Mr. Sheehan worked in conjunction with Galro Ltd in respect of that.

'It is a charitable organisation and carries out a lot of good work.

The animals were eventually going to be taken to a social farm in Ballynacargy; they are not your normal cows - they are specifically trained to deal with vulnerable people'.

During his deliberations on the matter, Judge Hughes made reference to the high level of cooperation displayed by both men with regards to the matter.

He awarded cost of €635 against Mr. Sheehan - who agreed to foot that bill - and both men were fines €250 in respect of the matter.

 

Longford Leader, May 6, 2016

The owner of one of the biggest country estates in Ireland has escaped with a €100 for the illegal felling of 296 ash trees at the estate.

 

 

At Ennis District Court, Judge Patrick Durcan imposed the fine on Kevin Farry of Newhall Estate outside Ennis, and also declined a State application for costs against Mr Farry.

Mr Farry pleaded guilty to the illegal felling that occurred in February of last year. The State stated that the fine that applied in the case totalled €18,793.

However, Judge Durcan opted not to impose the substantial fine having previously pointed out to the court that a heavy fine would achieve absolutely nothing and add another burden to the sinking of a very important property.

The estate is the former seat of an MP and more recently the home of a Second World War flying hero.

Forest service inspector with the Department of Agriculture, Kevin Keary, said that around 296 ash trees between 40 and 80 years old were knocked down for commercial gain for the production of hurley butts.

Mr Farry was required to carry out a bat survey for a tree felling licence for the area and this was not carried out. Judge Durcan said: “It seems to me that the main interest here is the bats, not the Newhall estate, not the house itself, not the forestry surrounding it.”

In reply, Mr Keary said: “We are not interested in the bats… I am interested in what is the summons which is 296 trees — that is the only reason why I am here.”

Imposing the €100 fine, Judge Durcan said that overshadowing the case “is the law of Europe which is the law of the land and the necessity to protect bats which of course is a legal obligation”.

Judge Durcan said: “I acknowledge that the duty exists and we employ a great cohort of civil servants to discharge that duty because that is the obligation imposed on us by virtue of our relationship with the EU.

He said: “On the other hand, the defendant, Kevin Farry, comes in here, he pleads guilty to the matter before the court.

“He very honestly and fulsomely outlines the difficulties he has in protecting, preserving, and attempting to enhance the Newhall estate. I have great sympathy for him and I have admiration for him in what he is attempting to do.”

 

Irish Examiner 29.04.16

PRESS RELEASE

FRIENDS OF THE IRISH ENVIRONMENT

11 MAY 2016

 

 

DEATH OF BIRDS DECRIED

 

The environmental group friends of the Irish Environment [FIE] have published on their website photographs of young birds killed in their nests by tree felling during this bird’s breeding season at a County Longford estate.

 

An investigation into felling at Castleforbes Estate County Longford by the Forest Service after a complaint from FIE in early April confirmed reports of the great spotted woodpecker drumming in the woods scheduled for felling but officials refused to halt the work because no nests were found. Other bird recorded in the Castleforbes Estate include the owl and the kestrel, harrier, and the cuckoo[TL1] . The badger, fox, pine martin, hedgehog, stoat and red squirrel are also present, the latter returning and flourishing only in the last 10 years.

 

The group has written to the Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed, TD, and the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Rural Affairs, and the Gaelteacta, Heather Humphries, TD to point out that the Estate is part of the Lough Forbes Special Area of Conservation.

 

‘This site consists of a number of different habitats, and is centred around Lough Forbes, a lake formed by a broadening of the River Shannon. As well as the lake itself, there is also a series of raised bogs, callow grasslands and an alluvial woodland which forms part of the Estate. A mature forest was recorded at this location in the 17th century. It is protected not only under EU law, but also in the County Longford Development Plan.’

 

The trees selected for felling, according to the Forest Service, include between 60-80 years old oak, ‘with the occasional older tree’. While the Forest Service restricted felling during the summer season in last year’s thinning licence, no such restrictions were placed on the two 2016 far more destructive felling licences.

 

DEPARTMENT ACCUSED OF DOUBLE STANDARDS

FIE accused the Department of using ‘double standards’, highlighting the recent judgement by Judge Seamus Hughes of the Longford District Court who fined two men €250 for destroying vegetation during the closed period imposed to protect birds and other wildlife between March 1 and August 31.

 

'Farmers are rightly required to go to considerable lengths to ensure they do not cut hedgerows during the closed period, even to incurring additional cost for machinery equipped to deal with wet land, while the Department's own Forest Service issued two felling licenses at the historic Castleforbes Estate in County Longford without any restrictions for nature conservation.’

 

‘These double standards are bound to cause resentment among farmers who are being fined in the Courts for felling hedgerows while they see heritage woodlands being cut at the peak of the nesting season. The excuse for allowing the felling at this time of year is that the wet woodlands are too difficult to fell during the winter season – but farmers facing fines for loss of land available for foraging are being actively prosecuted in the Courts for cutting hedgerow during the closed period.’

 

BIODIVERSITY TARGETS

In letters to Ministers, the group has urged them to examine the Ireland’s commitment to the 2020 headline target of the EU biodiversity strategy – ‘Halting the loss of biodiversity’.

 

FIE points out that EU rural development policy specifically requires Ireland ‘to bring about a measurable improvement in the conservation status of species and habitats that depend on or are affected by forestry.’ ‘The decision by the Forest service to allow this felling during the restricted season undermines Ireland’s commitment to this policy’, the group wrote.

 

‘It is particularly ironic that the death of these nesting birds took place just as the nation celebrated the ‘dawn chorus’, an event that showcases the great diversity of Ireland’s birdlife’, the FIE statement concluded sadly.

 

Contact: Tony Lowes 353 (0)87 2176316  /  353 (0)27 74771

 

 

Downloadable High Res Photos

https://goo.gl/photos/X9UrVH5QEDgg5xSr9

 

Letters

Agriculture

friendsoftheirishenvironment.org/images/pdf/ministercastleforbes_07.05.16_MC.pdf

Heritage

http://friendsoftheirishenvironment.org/images/pdf/ministercastleforbes_11.05.16_HH_final.2016.pdf

 

 

 


 [TL1]

PRESS RELEASE

FRIENDS OF THE IRISH ENVIRONMENT

18 APRIL 2016

 WORK STOPPED IN WOODLAND FELLING

 

MINISTER URGED TO INVESTIGATE SUSPENDED ESTATE FELLING

 

The Minister for Agriculture has been urged not to end the suspension of timber felling at Castle Forbes Estate in County Longford until a full investigation has been undertaken.

The suspension was initiated by the Forest Service on April 5, 2016 after a complaint was lodged by the environmental group Friends of the Irish Environment for General Felling Licences issued in January and February of this year.

In today’s letter, the group alleges that neither of the two licenses granted required that work not take place during the bird nesting season from 1 May to 30 September.

‘While a 2014 license had a bird protection condition attached, two General Felling Licenses were granted this year with no restrictions in this woodland, which is recorded as a mature forest with oak, elm, and ash as early as 1682’, said Tony Lowes of FIE. ‘Birdlife reported within the woodland includes protected species such as the kestrel, the woodpecker, and mammals such as stoats and red squirrel’s.

According to FIE ‘The site is designated as a Special Area of Conservation and should have been subject to an Appropriate Assessment to ensure no damage would be done by the felling operations under the Habitats Regulations 2011 but the ‘screening’ checklist produced to meet the requirements of the law has been shown to be inadequate to protect our environment.’

‘Not only was there no bird protection of the felling licence, but the conditions restricting the licences to ‘poor quality stems’ and ‘thinning’ in fact included mature hardwoods in a protected ancient woodland. This is completely unacceptable’, Mr Lowes said.

‘It appears that the Forest Service’s highly qualified ecologist was not consulted and that the Parks and Wildlife Service failed to flag the potential damage. The legislation is unequivocal that ‘an Appropriate Assessment of a plan or project is required where the plan or project is not directly connected with or necessary to the management of the site as a European Site and if it cannot be excluded, on the basis of objective scientific information following screening under this Regulation, that the plan or project, individually or in combination with other plans or projects, will have a significant effect on a European site’.

‘The entire system seems to have failed Castleforbes ancient trees and its rare flora and fauna’, the group says.

The letter urges the Minister to require the Forestry Service to consult an inventory of private estate forestry compiled by the Forest Service in the 1970. ‘We asked the Forest Service if they had checked these woodlands against that inventory and were told because it was a confidential document it had probably not been digitalised and so was not available to those considering the licence’.

‘We have been informed’, Mr. Lowes said, ‘that the Forest Service plans to allow the operators to recommence work shorty when the bird nesting season and the squirrel breeding season is in full swing, - let alone the potential damage that could be done to this protected woodland under a General Felling License.

The group has asked the Minister to continue the suspension of work until the full extent of the felling that has taken place can be investigated, including an examination of the records of the timber received by the sawmills, and conditions put in place to protect the woodland and the rare animals its supports.

 

Contact: Tony Lowes 353 (0)27 74771  /087 2176316

Letter to the Minister:

 

http://www.friendsoftheirishenvironment.org/images/pdf/minister_castleforbes_18.04.16_final.pdf