Public and stakeholder consultation on new National Forest Strategy & Forestry Programme planned
Today, I announced a range of public and stakeholder engagements on the development of a new Forest Strategy for Ireland.
The development of the next forestry strategy must be grounded in a shared vision that is based on feedback from all stakeholders. To achieve this, I am delighted to announce that my Department will carry out extensive consultation with stakeholders and provide a range of opportunities for public engagement over the next year.
Some of these initiatives include the hosting of a Deliberative Dialogue, similar to the Citizens’ Assembly model, which seeks to engage with a representative sample from a cross section of society of “99 people”. This format will provide useful insights and complement other wider public consultation forums which will also take place.
I am also keen to hear from young people so I am delighted that the youth organisation, An Foróige, will run a youth dialogue later this month. We will also reach out to other youth organisations during bilateral engagements, and I encourage all young people to engage in our public consultation. Our young people are the ones who will be most affected by the decisions we make today, so we need to put the issues before them, and listen to what they have to say.
I established Project Woodland in February 2021 to implement a range of initiatives aimed at developing our forests and creating a new vision for forestry based on a shared national approach. A dedicated working group was established within it to deliver on a new strategy, and they have now put in place a range of consultation initiatives which will be rolled out over the coming months.
To help prepare the ground for the upcoming engagements, the Department also engaged a professional polling company to carry out a public attitudes survey of 1000 people. The survey asked a wide range of questions to provide insights on a range of topics from climate change, recreation, types of forests to the use of wood. The interviews took place in November and December of last year and the results are being collated and will be published shortly.
I hope this survey, which is the first that my Department has carried out, will be followed by similar surveys run periodically to track how attitudes change over the years as we implement our new vision for forestry. I look forward to sharing the details of it later this month, but initial results show that 3 out 4 people would like more forests and 7 out of 10 would like to see a mix of conifers and broadleaves. I also note that 42% of people surveyed live within 5 km of a forest and that 58% of people have visited a forest in the last year. It is also clear that during the recent COVID restrictions the public value public access to woodlands which is so important for our well-being.
The Department will also carry out online public consultation in the next few months and provide a detailed online questionnaire which will encourage as many people as possible to complete. Details and timings of all consultation initiatives are currently being finalised. The Department has also commissioned Irish Rural Link to engage with local communities so their voice can be heard in this consultation and the results of this work is due later this month.
Trees, forests and woodland are good for the environment when they are established with the right tree, in the right place, for the right reason, with the right management. Getting all that ‘right’ requires thought and consultation, but I am happy that this work being done by my Department, by Project Woodland and by the planned levels of public and stakeholder engagement, will deliver. And I believe that at the end of it we will have firstly a Forest Strategy, and subsequently a Forestry Programme which supports all the great things trees can do – for our climate, our levels of biodiversity, our rural economies, and of course, our well-being.