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South Down MP, Chris Hazzard has called for a “fundamental review" of the Forest Service in light of the cascading ecological crisis and what he sees as the organisation’s failure to modernise its operating model. 

The MP has written to Agriculture & Environment Minister Edwin Poots this week to highlight the negative impact of the Forest Service business model in areas like South Down, where large plantations are regularly cleared for timber. 

Mr Hazzard said "For many observers, it appears that Forest Service exist merely to capitalise on the felling and production of timber; with limited capacity to focus on increasingly important areas of work such as the climate & biodiversity emergency.

"In short, the model of planting lines of non-native monoculture before clear felling entire plantations should be resigned to the past. This outdated practice robs large woodland areas of their forest ecosystem and makes them increasingly vulnerable to soil erosion, and consequently the pollution of nearby rivers. 

"An example of this is the large plantation recently cleared at the foot of Slievenamaddy and Slieve Commedagh in the Mournes. Not only has this left the busy walking trail alongside the Glen River dangerous to walk for inexperienced visitors, but increasingly vulnerable to erosion in the time ahead as the weather becomes more inclement during the autumn and winter. 

“I have now reminded Minister Poots that this ‘clear felling’ model is no longer used throughout Europe, instead forestry bodies are continuously ‘thinning’ on a rotation basis, thereby allowing woodland areas and their delicate ecosystems to flourish. Mixed forest areas - including a much larger native woodland covering - not only aids our efforts to address the biodiversity crisis, but importantly allows greater protection from flooding and erosion. 

“As we know from recent flooding incidents in areas like Newcastle, increasing flood risk can be effectively met with nature based solutions like native woodland. Together with our wet peat areas they have a great capacity to retain both water, and CO2 - thus providing us with much needed natural defences against flooding and Carbon emissions in the decades to come. 

Mr Hazzard added "I hope the Minister, and the Department for Agriculture, Environment & Rural Affairs, understand that the current extractive Forest Service model is no longer viable, and now is the time to overhaul the Forest Service and reset the vision and operating model of the organisation for the future.” 

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