Forestry is identified as one of the land uses that has “high-level targets for 2030” in the recently launched draft agri-food strategy 2030. The strategy contains a number of positive objectives for forestry to “increase afforestation and double the sustainable production of biomass from forests by 2035”.
Other goals emphasise the role of forestry in enhancing biodiversity and developing “diverse multipurpose forests”.
It also calls for a new forestry strategy, which “will be critical if the sector is to maximise its potential contribution to the economy and to rural communities”.
The strategy contains generic references to forestry and the “circular bioeconomy” but doesn’t develop this theme.
For example, it ignores the role production forestry can play through displacement of fossil-based materials, especially in sustainable construction and energy. However, it seeks to “promote and develop the benefits of increased use of wood and wood products as a pathway to reducing carbon footprints”.
In some cases, events have overtaken the strategy such as goal two to “restore and enhance biodiversity”.
It states: “Build on the measures introduced to protect and foster greater biodiversity in forests such as minimum broadleaf composition, setbacks from watercourses and archaeological features” while acknowledging “the need to maintain their economic viability as forests with rich biodiversity [offering] significant public goods and societal benefits”.
All of these environmental guidelines are in place including setback and minimum native species requirement, which are mandatory now in order to achieve afforestation licences.
“A strategy is worthless without proper monitoring and implementation,” the document claims. But implementation requires clear targets which are absent for forestry.
For example, it doesn’t mention the Government’s afforestation annual target of 8,000ha, which was also an objective in the Department’s own Roadmap Towards Climate Neutrality. Instead, the strategy limply seeks “to increase forest cover, including agroforestry”.
The strategy supports the “Implementation of Project Woodland – aka implementation of Mackinnon – to ensure that the licensing system for tree felling, thinning, roads and afforestation provides a predictable and efficient service for applicants, while complying with environmental requirements and those measures listed in the forests and water-achieving objectives under Ireland’s River Basin Management Plan 2018-2021”.
The strategy acknowledges the central role of farmers in its implementation. “The significant supports available to support afforestation can provide sustainable income streams,” it states.
“Adding forestry to the farming mix can also be achieved on many extensive farms without necessarily impacting on the drystock enterprise.”
Positive references to agro-forestry are repeated, without mentioning the reasons why it has failed dismally to date.
It also acknowledges other forestry schemes and practices.
“Multiple forms of afforestation exist, many of which take in complementary farming activities,” it states.
“While afforestation offers very significant economic opportunities for primary producers to diversify and enhance their income and viability, there are obvious and significant co-benefits for environmental sustainability.”
The report contains a number of errors relating to forestry which need correction.
“During 2020, a total of 450ha of native forests were established, the highest area since records began,” it claims, but records show that this is the lowest planting of native forests since the end of the last century. Average planting of mainly native broadleaves exceeded 2,000ha for all but one year from 2000 to 2012 when ash dieback was detected and even after that, native broadleaved planting averaged over 1,000ha until 2019.
Elsewhere, the report claims “the forest estate [comprises] three-quarters’ conifers and one-quarter broadleaves”. True, the forest estate comprises one-quarter broadleaves but 62% – not 75% – of the estate contains conifers with open mainly biodiverse areas amounting to 11% and 2% temporarily unstocked.
Consultation on the strategy is open until midday on 15 June 2021. Submissions can be sent to 2030StrategyEnvironmentalConsultation@agriculture.gov.ie or by post to the draft agri-food strategy 2030, Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Pavilion A, Grattan Business Park, Dublin Road, Portlaoise, Co Laois.
Renewed interest in agroforestry
Two recent successful events have raised the profile of agroforestry in Ireland. The Augustine Henry lecture by Jim McAdam and the first annual agroforestry conference attracted an attendance of over 500 including farmers, foresters, agricultural experts and policymakers.
Jim McAdam’s lecture on “Agroforestry – trees on farms and carbon neutral livestock systems” outlined the pressures facing the agriculture industry to deliver more carbon-neutral climate-resilient livestock systems.
The event, organised by the Society of Irish Foresters, heard that silvopasture – a form of agroforestry – containing wide-spaced trees “has been shown to increase sustainable grassland utilisation while delivering a wide range of environmental benefits, including increased carbon sequestration”.
The honorary professor at Queen’s University Belfast, was also one of the speakers at the two-day first annual agroforestry conference on 12 and 13 April organised by National Organic Training Skillnet (NOTS) in association with the Irish Agroforestry Forum.
Expert speakers from Ireland and the UK outlined their experiences of agroforestry and its future.
Core elements of the conference focused on how trees can be integrated in farms, as well as adding to farm viability and profitability. The conference showcased research on how agroforestry can enhance production through extended grazing seasons, recycling nutrients and reduced poaching.
Gavin Lynch outlined his experience in combining sheep and dairy cattle grazing with commercial hazelnut production.
The conference served as the launch pad for the Irish Agroforestry Forum, a new initiative consisting of farmers, academics and policymakers throughout Ireland – north and south – with the aim of increasing trees on farms through education, information provision and policy design.
Other speakers included Sean McGloin, NOTS; Eugene Curran, Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine; Ian Short, Teagasc; Imogen Rabone, Trees on the Land; and agroforestry farmers Clive Bright, William Considine and John Duffy.
Further information is available from Kevin Fagan by phoning 087-396 6197, visiting www.nots.ie or by emailing email@example.com.