The number of forestry felling licence applications received and yet to be licensed has increased to 300 in 2018, 1,484 in 2019, and 580 in 2020.
The backlog of applications arose following a surge in appeals, in connection with regulations for Natura 2000 designated sites.
These regulations require an appropriate assessment of all plans or projects likely to have a significant effect on a Natura site.
As a result of the appeals and certain Court of Justice of the EU decisions, complex restructuring of licence approval procedures was introduced by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, which is the licensing authority for afforestation, forest roads, tree felling and aerial fertilisation.
Extra staff resources to service the new approach are being put in place.
Licence applicants cannot commence work, pending the outcome of appeals, and the delays can lead to financial pressures on farmers and on the sawmill industry.
Felling licences are now valid for up to 10 years and may cover several felling events, such as thinning and then clear-felling on the same plot.
Landowners considering future operations can apply for a tree felling licence well in advance of any operations taking place.