Appropriate assessment procedures
Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs) are designated to afford protection to the most vulnerable habitats and species in Ireland. SACs and SPAs are collectively known as the 'Natura 2000 network'.
The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) must undertake 'screening' to assess if there is a possibility of the proposed forestry project having an effect, either individually or in combination with other plans or projects on a Natura site within a 15-km radius.
DAFM can only approve a forestry-related application where it deems at screening stage that there is no possibility of an effect on any Natura site, or (at appropriate assessment stage, if required) that there will be no adverse effect on the integrity of any Natura site.
Screening – stage 1
If there is a possibility of the proposed forestry project having an effect, either individually or in combination with other plans or projects on a Natura site within a 15-km radius, then the project is 'screened in' in relation to the Natura site(s) involved.
Where a site has been screened-in for appropriate assessment, DAFM can seek the submission of a Natura Impact Statement (NIS) to inform that process. The purpose of the NIS is to provide adequate information to enable the DAFM to undertake and complete its Appropriate Assessment of the proposed forestry project (see below).
Where a site has been screened-in for appropriate assessment, the DAFM will issue a Further Information Required (FIR) letter to the applicant. This FIR letter may also provide further clarification, such as
- the required focus of the NIS
- responses from referral bodies such as the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Inland Fisheries Ireland, etc.
- a deadline for the submission of the NIS
Applicants can also opt to submit a NIS with their initial application at the very outset, in the assumption that the application will be screened-in.
DAFM will only approve a forestry-related application at screening stage where it deems that there is no possibility of an effect on any Natura site within a 15-km radius.
NATURA Impact Statement or NIS
A NATURA Impact Statement or NIS is a scientific examination that identifies and characterises any possible impact the project may have (either individually or in combination with other plans and projects) on the conservation objectives of any 'screened-in' Natura site(s), taking into account the full scope of these objectives, whether generic or site specific.
It must also identify and detail any proposed mitigation measures needed to avoid, reduce or eliminate the risk of such impact. The NIS must also present the necessary analysis to demonstrate how any proposed mitigation measures will avoid or remove the risks of those adverse effects identified, so that the final analysis is undertaken in the context of the predicted residual effects.
All sources of information must be cited.
DAFM states that it is the responsibility of the applicant to engage relevant experts and to bear the cost of preparing the NIS.
In most cases, a person with appropriate ecological qualifications and experience (see Directory of Professional Ecologists, PDF) will be required to undertake the necessary ecological surveys, research and analysis. Other relevant experts may be required if non-ecological input is needed, e.g. in the area of hydrology or engineering.
Generally, the Registered Forester (see List of Registered Foresters, PDF) associated with the project will coordinate and contribute to the compilation of the NIS.
Appropriate Assessment (AA) – stage 2
At AA stage, DAFM undertakes an 'appropriate assessment' to determine beyond reasonable scientific doubt whether there will be an adverse effect on the integrity of these Natura site(s), based on the nature of the impact, the effectiveness of any mitigation measures proposed, etc.
The appropriate assessment must
- identify, in light of the best scientific knowledge, all aspects of the development that would affect Natura sites within a 15-km radius of the proposed forestry-related project
- contain complete and definitive findings capable of removing all reasonable scientific doubt that the development would adversely affect the integrity of those sites
DAFM will only approve a forestry-related application at AA stage where it deems that there will be no adverse effect on the integrity of any Natura site within a 15-km radius of the proposed forestry-related project.