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Coillte refused permission for Galway forest project

Coillte, the national forestry company, is considering whether or not to appeal the refusal of planning permission by Galway County Council to proceed with a 343-hectare forest and bogland rehabilitation project near Recess in Co Galway.

The company has until 28 April to either appeal or accept the decision made.

In recent years Coillte has changed its approach to the management of the forest estate it owns, with greater emphasis on environmental sustainability and biodiversity.

To support the delivery of Ireland’s climate action goals, it set itself the target to rehabilitate 30,000 hectares of peatland forests for climate and ecological benefits by 2050.

The first planned action in that regard was the felling and removal of 343 hectares of conifer plantation situated in Derryclare, north of Recess in Co Galway.

As well as removing the non-native sitka spruce and lodgepole pine trees, the company planned to plant 62 hectares of native forest, and rewet 281 hectares of Atlantic blanket bog and heathland, by blocking artificial drains and restoring the high water table.

They also planned to control invasive species in the areas.

The 343-hectare site is situated partially within the Twelve Bens, Garraun Complex, a Special Area of Conservation, and close to the Connemara Bog Complex.

Coillte planned to install silt traps at water outflows to prevent silt flowing into protected areas.

The application also sought permission for construction of deer fencing to protect the proposed native woodland, resurfacing of existing forest roads, construction of a new internal access road, 4 water crossings to facilitate the harvesting of the timber and installation of water monitoring stations for real time water monitoring during operations.

The Twelve Bens, Garraun Special Area of Conservation

The permission sought was for 10 years and an Environment Impacts Assessment Report and a Natura Impact Statement were submitted to the planning authority.

Following provision of additional information requested by Galway Co Council, the planning authority refused permission at the end of last month stating “the proposed development would be contrary to the proper planning policies as set out in the County Development Plan”.

The council said possible “adverse impacts” on the integrity of adjacent Special Areas of Conservation and sensitive areas to which the Derryclare site is linked by location and hydrological connectivity “cannot be excluded” given the nature and scale of the proposed development.

If permitted as proposed, the Council said, “it would materially contravene Policy Objectives of the Galway County Development Plan and would be contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area”.

In a statement to RTÉ News, a spokesperson for Coillte said the company “was disappointed with the recent decision by Galway County Council to refuse planning permission for this peatland restoration and conversion to native woodland. We will reflect on the decision and consider the next steps including consulting with key stakeholders about how best to move forward with this ambition”.

On refusing the application, Galway County Council outlined to the company that it has four weeks from the date or refusal to lodge an appeal in writing with An Bord Pleanála.

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