Our native woodlands bustle with life, supporting a weird and wonderful parade of insects, fungi, plants, mammals and birds. When sensitively managed, woodlands and their soils also play a vital role in carbon capture; act as natural water filters and reduce flood risk by storing and then slowly releasing water.

Premiums and payments

Recognising the societal value of these ecosystem services, an expanding array of Government-sponsored initiatives, such as ACRES, the NPWS Farm Plan Scheme and the 2023-2027 Forestry Programme, now support farmers eager to plant native trees on their land.

Within the Forestry Programme, the Afforestation Scheme offers a menu of subsidies for larger scale planting efforts. For native forests in particular, farmers can expect a payment of €22,060/ha over a 20-year period, plus an establishment grant of €6,744/ha (excluding fencing).

For smaller scale efforts of up to one hectare (or two hectares along watercourses), the recently launched Native Tree Area Scheme offers farmers the same total premiums, but paid in half the time (over 10 years). Furthermore, planting can be divided into multiple small blocks (minimum 0.1ha), making it much easier to envisage fitting a hectare of trees onto many productive farms.

While some schemes have had greater uptake than others, there is no doubt that this winter will see an increase in farmers planting native trees. Teagasc reports that, through ACRES alone, 5,000 farmers will plant 2,000km of hedgerow this winter and tree nurseries are expressing concern that demand will outstrip supply.

Joining a growing number of farmers across the country, each of our eight Footprint Farmers is contributing to tree planting, maintenance of previously planted trees, or the management of native woodland for biodiversity this winter.

Understanding a few simple principles will prove valuable in maximising the long-term success and sustainability of these endeavours.

1. Plant while trees are dormant

Winter is the best time for tree planting. During this period, most trees enter a dormant phase, meaning they are not actively growing. In this state, tree roots engage less with the soil and the tree can tolerate being dug up and replanted, so long as its roots are re-established in the soil before lengthening days and warmer weather trigger new leaf growth in the spring. In Ireland, the optimal tree planting window is typically from November to March.

2. Choose native tree species to support biodiversity

There is a simple reason why native trees are better for biodiversity: they have co-evolved with the native flora and fauna of Ireland. Co-evolution is a process by which two or more species influence each other’s development over many thousands of years. This often leads to interdependent relationships, where one species relies on another to survive.

Due to this process, native trees in Ireland provide food and habitat for a greater proportion of our biodiversity than non-native species. Research has shown that whitethorn, birch, willow and oak provide for particularly wide arrays of insect life, supporting 149, 229, 266 and 284 different species respectively.

3. Source native provenance trees

The devastation of Dutch elm-disease and ash die-back, and the recent concerning appearance of oak processionary moth caterpillars in Dublin, highlight the risks associated with importing trees into Ireland. By exclusively choosing to plant native provenance trees (grown in Ireland) we can significantly reduce the risk of introducing future diseases through imported stock.

Native woodland bordering Tullamore Farm, Co Offaly. Tree planting schemes and initiatives can provide an opportunity to connect existing woodlands through the creation of new 'wildlife corridors'.

Top tips for planting trees this winter

  • Plant trees promptly upon receiving them. If there’s a delay, store bags in a cool, dry place and ensure roots are kept damp, but avoid waterlogging.
  • Exposed roots can dry out rapidly during planting, especially in windy conditions: keep tree roots damp by keeping whips (young trees) in the bag until ready to plant.
  • To plant a whip, push a spade into the ground and lever open a slit in the earth that’s deep enough for the tree roots. Place the tree roots inside, gently remove the spade and ‘heel in’ around the base of the tree.
  • Planting too deeply is a common mistake and can kill the tree – soil should just cover the uppermost roots, but should not extend any further up the stem.
  • Native trees don’t require fertilizer: choose trees that are naturally adapted to your soil type.
  • Prevent vegetation from choking young trees: trampling around the trees by foot a few times in spring and summer for the first few years is very effective. Avoid using silage wrap, as this creates plastic pollution.