A bird conservation group has warned that state afforestation plans in Ireland pose extinction risk to threatened farmland birds such as the curlew.
BirdWatch Ireland is calling on the Irish Government and the European Commission to ensure cast-iron safeguards to avoid tree planting on habitats of threatened bird species are integrated into new forestry programme and any State Aid consent for forestry investment.
Serious concerns have been raised about the dropping curlew population in Donegal. A recent survey founds that in Donegal, as few as two breeding pairs exist in the county.
BirdWatch Ireland says the planting of forestry in habitats used by birds of the open countryside results in the direct loss of habitat for these species. For those species which nest on the ground, such as Curlew and Lapwing, forested areas provide cover for predators such as foxes and corvids which take the eggs and young of these species breeding in the vicinity of the forest block.
“Farmland birds, particularly those nesting on ground in open landscapes are more severely threatened than any other group of birds in Ireland,” the group said.
BirdWatch Ireland claims the Irish government Forestry Programme 2014-2022 has operated in breach of the conditions of the EU State Aid consent granted to it in 2014. Afforestation has also occurred in breach of Article 4.4 of the Birds Directive.
In a submission to the draft Forest Strategy Implementation Plan 2023-2027 (new forestry programme), BirdWatch Ireland has provided evidence that the government approved the planting of forestry in environmentally unsuitable sites in breach of the conditions of the State Aid decision for the Forestry Programme 2014-2022.
Oonagh Duggan Head of Advocacy at BirdWatch Ireland said “The European Commission cannot in good faith give consent to the 1.3 billion euro in state aid for the new forestry programme as requested by the Irish government and ignore breaches of existing state aid conditions as well as EU environmental law. This is a 5-fold investment over the previous forestry programme and spells the deathknell for threatened farmland birds.”
She continued “the proposed new forestry programme does not contain adequate safeguards to protect habitats for breeding waders and other open countryside birds from afforestation and considering the scale of the lucrative payments available, we anticipate an accelerated loss of important habitats for wild birds and other biodiversity. We call on Ministers Hackett, McConalogue and Noonan to ensure that no further tree planting occurs in farmland bird hotspots and to adhere to EU environmental law”.