Forestry Journal:

This piece is an extract from our Latest from the Woods newsletter (previously Forestry Latest News), which is emailed out at 4PM every Friday with a round-up of the week's top stories. 

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NORTHERN Ireland's new forestry minister has said it is "critical" the country meets its woodland expansion ambition. 

Andrew Muir believes it is imperative forest cover rises to 12 per cent by 2050, and woodlands are "sustainably managed to ensure that the benefits can be fully realised by NI's citizens". 

The Alliance Party MLA became the first Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs since Edwin Poots in October 2022 when the Northern Irish Assembly reconvened at the start of the month. 

Forestry Journal: Edwin Poots was the previous holder of Mr Muir's new role Edwin Poots was the previous holder of Mr Muir's new role

His brief includes NI's Forest Service, which manages around 62,000 hectares of forest. 

Speaking to Forestry Journal about his ambitions for the department, Mr Muir said: “I am acutely aware of the significant contribution our forests make to the rural economy and our environment that we are passionate about. 

"Over nine million visits by the public are made to our forests each year for recreation and tourism which provide high-value health and wellbeing benefits.

"I am privileged to be able to enjoy the popular Saturday parkruns in my local Crawfordsburn Country Park and have successfully led campaigns to save Carirn Wood Forest in Craigantlet." 

Mr Muir's appointment comes at a time of tree-planting struggles in Northern Ireland. Last year, the country's woodland creation rates fell sharply compared to the previous 12 months, down to an annual total of 451 ha. The slump was called "disappointing" by Confor's Stuart Goodall, and brought to an end a period of afforestation progress in the country. In the wake of the publication of the figures, Forest Service officials confirmed they had established a "stakeholder group" to address the reasons for the struggles. 

As for this year, forestry figures in the country have already called it a "write off". 
Speaking to Agriland, Premier Woodlands managing director, John Hetherington, blamed "the total lack of communication between Forest Service and the various stakeholder groups involved in the forestry and woodland development sectors". 

He added: "The silence is deafening." 

Mr Muir added: “A key challenge and focus for the Department is to accelerate the increase in forests and woodlands, from the current 8.6 per cent of land area to 12 per cent by 2050.  

"This is a critical element of DAERA’s contribution to climate change mitigation and a balanced pathway to net zero carbon emissions. 

"We need to ensure that our expanding forest landscape continues to be sustainably managed to ensure that the benefits can be fully realised by our citizens and protected for future generations.”