The emphasis in Ag Climatise, the Department of Agriculture’s roadmap towards climate neutrality, is to “find the right balance between the multiple objectives placed on agriculture and land use”, according to Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue. The report drew a muted response from stakeholders in the forestry and forest products sector.

There is no reference to forestry in the Department’s 1,348-word news release which accompanied Ag Climatise, yet the document itself is strong on the role the forestry sector can play in achieving climate neutrality or – to be more specific – climate-neutral agriculture.

Unlike the 2019 Oireachtas committee report, Climate Change: A Cross- Party Consensus for Action, it acknowledges not only the carbon sequestration benefits of forests but the carbon substitution and storage potential of wood in the bioeconomy. In this regard, it is close to the Government’s Climate Action Plan.

It states: “Woodlands not only sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere but also store carbon in the timber produced and can replace materials made from non-renewable resources. Forest biomass can also play an important role in bioenergy replacing fossil fuels and reducing overall emissions in the energy sector.” The roadmap is designed to clearly explain “what we need to do and when we need to do it”.

Forestry – what we need to do

The overarching aim of what forestry needs to do, according to the roadmap, is: “Increase afforestation levels and maximise the contribution of existing forests to climate change mitigation and adaptation.” The main objectives are:

  • Increase annual afforestation to 8,000ha.
  • Encourage species diversity to ensure forests are adaptive and resilient to climate change as well as providing multiple benefits.
  • Construct 125km of new forest roads annually to facilitate wood mobilisation and to encourage the transition to a low-carbon economy.
  • Increase the area of conifer and broadleaved planting nationally to provide a range of multiple benefits such as timber, shelter, landscape and biodiversity.
  • Expand the areas of broadleaved and native woodland planted nationally through initiatives such as native woodland, agro-forestry and other schemes.
  • Support the planting of woodlands of different sizes from 0.1ha upwards to increase connectivity between hedgerows, larger woodlands and provide corridors for wildlife. This will be achieved by closer integration between the schemes under the next round of CAP.
  • Examine new opportunities for the forestry sector in the provision of more sustainable innovations in the bioeconomy.
  • While it’s not mentioned under forestry, the action to reward farmers for providing public goods would apply to forest and woodland owners who establish long-rotation non-commercial native woodlands.

    Forestry – when we need to do it

    Apart from aiming to be climate-neutral by 2050, there is no timetable in achieving the above objectives. The achievement of the 8,000ha afforestation programme, for example, will depend on a new approach by the Department towards farm forestry.

    The urgency of this is illustrated in last year’s farmer afforestation programme, estimated at little more than 1,000ha out of a total private planting programme of 2,200ha.

    Ag Climatise requires an accompanying document which needs to take into account Jo O’Hara’s report on the implementation of the Mackinnon Review and the findings of the joint Oireachtas committee on forestry. Both reports are due in January and February.

    Ash dieback scheme update

    Since last week’s piece on the ash dieback reconstitution and underplanting scheme (RUS), the Department of Agriculture has confirmed that “191 applications have been registered and acknowledgement letters are being issued”. The spokesperson said 117 have been issued to date and added: “Registration for approximately 25 more applications has commenced. The total number of active applications is therefore 242.” So far, no application has been approved.

    The RUS was introduced last June. It provides funding for site clearance or partial clearance, reconstitution and/or underplanting. The scheme applies to infected ash woodlands under 25 years of age. Trees must be less than 17m top height and under 18cm breast height diameter.

    The scheme has been heavily criticised by the IFA, while Donal Whelan of the Irish Timber Growers Association (ITGA) said it does not address growers’ loss of future income.

    “The full range of silvicultural options should be made available for all infected plantations,” he maintained.

    The most vocal critics are members of Limerick-Tipperary Woodlands Owners Ltd (LTW) whose spokesperson Simon White said farmers and other ash growers are blameless for the introduction of ash dieback and need to be adequately compensated.

    “The RUS must be redesigned immediately,” he said.

    “Farmers affected by ash dieback must be assisted and granted the right to return their land to grassland or tillage if they request it.”

    White added that “all schemes to aid affected plantation owners must contain adequate supports to cover the cost of removal and replacement of the affected plantations along with a premium payment for 15 years consistent with the present afforestation payment, or similar to any new support payment system which might be introduced”.

    Coillte launches first native woodland in Dublin Mountains

    Coillte is converting over 900ha of conifer forests to diverse native species over the coming years. The Dublin Mountains Makeover forest transformation scheme is central to the conversion programme, which is taking place in stages as the coniferous forests are being removed during final harvest. The most recent conversion is in Ticknock Forest, where the reforested site includes birch, Scots pine, oak, rowan and holly.

    “Coillte has been delighted with the public response to the long-term makeover of the Dublin Mountains and it shows the importance of this area to the people of Dublin,” said Imelda Hurley, CEO of Coillte, who performed the ceremonial planting at Ticknock with Minister of State Pippa Hackett recently.

    Minister Hackett congratulated Coillte for initiating the project.

    Minister of State Pippa Hackett and Imelda Hurley, CEO of Coillte, planting holly at Ticknock Forest to mark the launch of the Dublin Mountains Makeover project.

    “Coillte is responsible for so much of the woodland in this country so it is heartwarming to see them dedicating this part of the Dublin mountains to native woodlands and, in effect, to the wellbeing of the Irish people,” she said.

    The forest makeover uses a mixture of management approaches including continuous cover forestry and reforestation with native woodland planting to create a mosaic of mixed forest types and mixed-age forests in the future.

    The project was developed in collaboration with the Dublin Mountains Partnership while the partner organisations are Coillte, South Dublin County Council, Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, Dublin City Council, the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Dublin Mountains Initiative.