Increase in forest road grant welcomed
The increase was secured under the mid-term review of the Forestry Programme 2014 - 2020.

A 20% increase in the forest road grant secured under the mid-term review of the Forestry Programme 2014-2020 has been welcomed by the IFA national farm forestry chairman, Pat Collins. The length of road eligible for the grant has been increased from 20 metres/ha to 25 metres/ha.

Collins said: “This is a very important increase; the additional support is needed to support farmers to construct essential infrastructure to access and mobilise timber.

“The first step to a farmer realising the economic potential is to construct a forest road to access and harvest the crop.

"The level of construction of forest roads needs to increase significantly if the timber production targets are to be achieved.

Forecasts project a doubling of timber production from 4m sq metres to nearly 8m sq metres by 2035, with almost all the increase coming from privately owned, grant-aided forests.

The increased grant aid is available to existing applications that have approval for a length of a forest road greater than or equal to 25 metres/ha, with a completion date of on or after 21 February 2018. Farmers must re-apply to the forest service to get of the additional grant aid.

The Forest Road scheme grants up to 100% of eligible construction costs subject to a maximum payment of €40/metre.

In addition there is an allowance of up to 20 metre or €800 per application where a new forest road entrance to the public road is being created or modified.

Read more

Afforestation down but forest roading up

How much does a farmer make out of a Coillte farm partnership?

Changes to forestry licensing and approval process
New grant aid conditions for afforestation, woodland improvement, forest roading and aerial fertilisation have been welcomed by the forestry sector.

A number of changes have been announced to the licensing and approval process for afforestation, woodland improvement, forest roads and aerial fertilisation. These take effect from 7 August, as outlined in a recent circular from the Forest Service, Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM).

The existing section (7.10) of the conditions of aid for the Forest Roads Scheme in the Forestry Programme 2014-2020 requires that: “A felling licence number for the area to be thinned/harvested must be included with the application.”

This is no longer a requirement of the scheme according to the DAFM circular which states: “When a licence is granted for the purpose of forest road works, the licence will also confer the authority on the licensee to fell only those trees which need to be removed within the road reserve to facilitate the works.” The definition of a ‘‘road reserve’’ is “the strip of land immediately affected by roadworks” or an area which “corresponds to the tree clearance width.”

Where stone or gravel is sourced along the road route or in the forest, a map of the proposed road and licence application must also show the location of the extraction points, as well as their approximate areas.

Woodland Improvement Scheme

Woodland Improvement Scheme (WIS) applicants will no longer be requested to submit a felling licence number when making their application.

All applications for thinning and tending under the scheme will continue to undergo an environmental assessment procedure, including appropriate assessment, if required, as part of the felling licence application process.

A condition will be added to all WIS licences stating that no work can progress until a tree felling licence is obtained.

Regarding licences for afforestation, forest road works or aerial fertilisation of forests, the expiry date – formerly two years – will now be set at three years from the start date of new licences issued and no extensions will be granted to these. For existing licences, no further extensions will be issued after the 1st June 2019.

Regarding the WIS, the expiry date will also be three years which allows for more flexibility as the expiry date was previously only six months from the start date of new approvals issued. No extensions will be granted to these new WIS existing approvals. For existing approvals, no further extensions will be issued after the 1st June 2019.

Stakeholder reaction

The forestry and forest products sector has broadly welcomed the announcement. “The time extension to licensing forest roads should help increase wood mobilisation with knock-on benefits for forest owners, contractors and timber processors in sourcing much needed timber from State and private forests,” said Paul Harvey, chair of the Wood Marketing Federation.

Paddy Bruton, Forestry Services Ltd, summed up the response of many foresters and forestry companies. “The changes in the circular are welcomed as they can only result in increased uptake of the schemes through reduced bureaucracy,” he said. “This is a positive step by the DAFM and more initiatives of this kind would be also welcome.”

High plant mortality after prolonged drought conditions

Apart from occasional storm damage, forests, unlike seasonal crops, escape the worst weather conditions. While prolonged periods of rain can cause havoc in farming, forests generally thrive on above-average rainfall conditions. Likewise, while the prolonged dry period is negatively affecting agricultural production, apart from a few isolated cases, mature and semi-mature trees are largely unaffected.

However, foresters and forestry companies are reporting unprecedented large-scale losses in planting sites established this year due to the prolonged drought conditions.

Fearghal Kealey of Forest and Tree Services Limited and secretary of the Association of Irish Forestry Consultants (AIFC) reports high failure rates from a recent small sample that is likely to be replicated throughout the country.

“There are estimated to be in excess of 47 sites, containing 325ha of failures comprising 145ha of broadleaves and 180ha of conifers,” he said. He is now conducting a wider survey among AIFC members but says that “broadleaves and diverse conifers are taking a hammering in relation to their respective percentages planted”.

The challenge facing most foresters and forestry companies is replacing dead trees which will provide major logistical and cashflow problems.

Fearghal Kealey maintains that there is no excess in the forest establishment grants to carry this expense, especially now with the increased labour and machinery costs. “This is serious for our members and clients, and we need help,” he says. “We call for the reconstitution scheme to be introduced for trees affected by drought conditions.”

Foresters have carried out all the planning and paperwork followed by the major operations in forest establishment, so in a normal year the first phase of the grant would be paid or due. This averages at between €2,800/ha and €4,200/ha depending on grant premium categories with the 25% balance paid at year four. Now, many of these sites cannot be passed for grant aid if the strict criterion of plant number survival is observed.

Forest establishment involves a number of elements including fencing, ground preparation and planting. Costs have been incurred in all operations so the solution would be to provide the grant to cover afforestation in these sites where plant failures are due to drought and where all other operations have been carried out to the required standard. This will have to be followed by an introduction of the reconstitution grant in sites where losses are high, according to forestry consultants and companies.

“The extremes in weather conditions experienced since the start of the year have impacted on all farmers,” said Paddy Bruton of Forestry Services. “The impact on the livestock and dairy sector is well-known and understood and actions must and will be taken to protect this important industry. Any aid package for the livestock sector must be mirrored for the farm forestry sector to facilitate the replanting of newly established forests that have failed due to drought. The reconstitution scheme needs to be reintroduced immediately.”

Reconstitution scheme

John Roche of The Forestry Company agrees. “We need an immediate reconstitution scheme to help with these losses, and the Forest Service needs to confirm that it will not refuse any Form 2 for reasons associated with drought,” he said.

“The onus will be on the forester/grower to have the plantation up to a certain standard by year four so there is no risk that these losses won’t be addressed.”

It is now likely that a comprehensive assessment of damage will be required first to assess overall drought damage. Foresters and nursery managers maintain that autumn planting should continue apace to ensure a viable afforestation programme in tandem with the introduction of a reconstitution drought grant.

The importance of knowledge transfer in forestry
Introduction of a national scheme for Forestry Knowledge Transfer Groups (KTGs) focuses on the mobilisation of timber and biomass. Donal Magner reports.

When Andrew Doyle, Minister of State with responsibility for forestry launched the midterm forestry review earlier this year, most of the interest was directed towards the afforestation, woodland improvement and roading measures. However, support measures also play an important role in delivering a viable forestry programme, especially the Knowledge Transfer Group (KTG) scheme.

The aim of the KTG measure is to increase the level of forest management activity among participating forest owners, and to increase their awareness of the value of their forests with particular emphasis on wood mobilisation.

The KTGs, which will be rolled out later this year are based on three successful pilot schemes carried out in Clare, Donegal and Limerick-Tipperary in 2017.

“The introduction of KTGs is a key strategy of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) to promote better forest management among private forest owners,” maintained a DAFM spokesperson as “forest owners will learn from the experts and from each others’ experiences within a discussion group setting”. She said KTGs would:

  • Help consolidate small dispersed forestry units into single management blocks that have sufficient scale to make forest management operations economical, while still being managed by the respective owners.
  • Encourage forest owners to join forestry/producer groups.
  • Serve as a means by which forest owners can come into contact with professional foresters.
  • “While the KTG structure is geared towards participants learning from each other’s experiences, it is important that qualified foresters are present to add to the quality of information being exchanged,” said the DAFM spokesperson. “Experienced foresters who have practical knowledge in harvesting and selling timber on behalf of clients are therefore suitable candidates to fill the role of facilitators in KTGs.”

    She maintained that the KTG pilot demonstrated that professional foresters acting as facilitators worked very well. In a national forestry KTG scheme, these foresters may themselves be employed by forestry companies or they may organise KTGs themselves.

    Regarding a possible conflict of interest arising as a result of direct involvement by foresters and/or forestry companies as organisers, she said: “It is difficult to see a way in which the risk of a potential conflict of interest could be fully eliminated without removing the professional foresters from the KTG organisation structure altogether.”

    When asked if the involvement by foresters should be at the behest of the producer groups only, as proposed by Michael Ryan (see panel), she said that the Department sees a role for both producer groups and foresters in organising KTGs but acknowledged that it “is important that all KTG organisers, whether they are producer groups, forestry companies or consultants, deliver the training content in an impartial manner”.

    To ensure this outcome the following provisions are included in the KTG terms and conditions:

  • DAFM forestry inspectors will spot check up to six KTG meetings per application.
  • Teagasc will have a half-hour slot in all KTGs to highlight the options available to forest owners when deciding on who they should choose for forest management services.
  • Teagasc will be involved at the planning stages of each KTG.
  • All agree on the importance of KTGs although there is some disagreement on who delivers the scheme. Michael Ryan former chair of the Limerick-Tipperary Producer Group and Paul Finnegan, forestry consultant outline their views.

    The role of forestry consultants

    The establishment of KTGs is a timely initiative and very much welcomed. Farmers with forests are very eager to learn and engage with foresters so they can learn how to manage their forests to maximise their benefits. It gives them a structure to engage with foresters and to give themselves the tools to make decisions about the management of their forests. The following are a number of relevant points based on my own experience of delivering a KTG:

  • The scheme should be delivered by foresters to forest owners. Foresters have the experience and practical knowledge that the forest owners require.
  • The EU legislation stipulates that the knowledge transfer provider shall be the beneficiary of the support. This is important because as well as transferring knowledge to the people that require it – mainly farmers – the people with the knowledge – foresters – are sustained in the local areas where the technical knowledge is required.
  • As consultant forester, I delivered one of the pilot KTGs as organiser, administrator and facilitator of the group which is similar to the agricultural model. This proved to be a seamless structure whereby the organisation of the KTG and the responsibilities of the person delivering the scheme were clear and everyone benefited.
  • I believe that if foresters have satisfied the Forest Service requirements to deliver the scheme then there is no need for these foresters to be subsequently further vetted by any other organisation or group.
  • Foresters have been engaged in knowledge transfer for many years in dealing with client queries and problems as they arise on an ad hoc one-to-one basis, free in most cases. The KTG scheme allows farmers to seek the specific knowledge they require while receiving a payment for their attendance and also facilitating the forester to benefit from the delivery of their knowledge.
  • The participants of the KTGs should be free to select their own service provider as they are for all other FS schemes.
  • The role of forest owner groups

    Knowledge is power. If organisations and individuals are equipped with the required knowledge they will carry out their businesses more satisfactorily. Equally importantly, they cannot be so easily exploited by others who already possess these skills. Large-scale private afforestation since the 1990s wasn’t accompanied by a comprehensive training, skills and information programme so many farm forest owners have not learned how to manage their forest resource effectively. As a result, some have paid for services which they could have provided themselves. In a small number of cases, owners have been exploited by service providers.

    This is changing and the formation of Forest Owner Groups, supported by Teagasc, has provided an important vehicle for information. Despite their voluntary nature, limited resources and lack of tangible support, these have brought a new degree of awareness of good forestry practice to thousands of their members across Ireland.

    The KTGs take this a step further illustrated by the Limerick & Tipperary Woodland Owners Ltd (LTWO), which launched a pilot scheme in 2017, funded by the Forest Service (FS). This has been a resounding success with hundreds of forest owners taking part, benefitting from each others’ experience and the expertise of the forester employed by LTWO. A full scale scheme is now being announced, which plans to include forestry companies as organisers and facilitators. I believe that this is a serious retrograde step.

    There is a clear conflict of interest in having any entity which is a provider of services to forest owners providing training to those same owners. The best scenario is that forestry farmers just like dairy or beef farmers, should manage their own businesses. I have no issue with forest owners using the services of forestry consultants or companies provided they are equipped with an independently acquired level of forestry and management skills and can therefore critically assess the services being offered.

    The integrity of the KTG scheme is now in question, as it can no longer guarantee that the information imparted, will be independent and unbiased. There is a wide range of services that forestry companies can usefully provide but impartial knowledge transfer is not one of them.

    Counting the cost of the dry period
    Drought affects tree growth, especially in young plantations, while fires limited to hill and bogs with minimal damage to forests compared with last year.

    The impact of the dry season is still evident in the landscape after almost three months. The forty shades of green of late spring have turned to as many shades of brown and yellow as grassland has prematurely shrivelled and early harvesting of crops such as winter barley has created premature landscape patterns.

    Forests are also vulnerable to drought with the added risk of fire which continued beyond the traditional danger period of February to April up until last weekend when finally most of the country experienced some rainfall.

    Drought

    Trees are “engineered” to cope with dry spells better than seasonal crops because of their deep rooting ability to seek out available water. The amount of water required by trees varies with species and location. Individual trees in fields and parklands will require more moisture than forest or woodland trees because of their larger canopies.

    Water uptake by trees will also depend on the site and soil conditions as well as the age of trees. Trees planted this year, or even in recent years, have yet to develop a fully formed rooting system so are vulnerable to drought.

    Padraig Egan of SWS Forestry said there are some losses already in this year’s planting and while it is too early to assess plantations established over the past four years (the time scale between first and final grant payment in the Afforestation Programme) he said there will be losses. “We will need to carry out some filling-in [plant replacement] to ensure fully stocked plantations because of the prolonged dry period but conditions vary from site to site. For example, trees planted on damp rushy sites are performing very well while trees on exposed shallow mineral sites are under stress.”

    John O’Reilly, Green Belt said that trees planted up to late April have experienced little or no rainfall in some parts of the country. “Some conifers are under pressure and broadleaves – especially birch – will need replacing,” he said.

    Readers may have noticed that even semi-mature birch seems to be suffering from drought from observing the species in roadside and garden sites. “Deep rooting native species such as oak and ash are unaffected by the dry spell but birch, which is a relatively shallow rooting species, can be affected by prolonged drought,” said Dr Matthew Jebb, director, National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin. He added that closely planted trees resulting in competition for available nutrients and moisture can increase the onset of damage which may continue beyond the current growing season.

    “Trees such as birch which are under severe stress at the moment may survive this year’s growing season,” he said but urged caution about their future survival. “Some trees may again show signs of stress during the following summer, even though there may be ample rainfall in the intervening period but the damage has been done. There may be a delay until the fourth year before some trees eventually die.”

    While tree health and survival are relatively easy to monitor in arboreta, gardens and parklands, they are more difficult to check in forests and woodlands because of scale and more densely planted trees. Trees are resilient but young plantations need to be checked as filling in may be required this autumn while plantations established over the past four years also need monitoring because of the delayed damage mentioned by Dr Jebb.

    While some recently established plantations may have major failures, most foresters contacted said it was too early to say if a reconstitution grant payment will be required. Unlike tillage farmers who may have opportunities to “go again” this year by planting forage crops such as fodder rape, stubble turnips or other green cover crops, forest owners are obliged to continue managing their forest and ensure stocking levels are optimised for rotations that may extend to the next century for species such as oak and beech.

    Fire

    The fire danger period normally ends in early May as fresh growth of grasses and plants replaces dead and combustible vegetation. While the records will probably show that 2018 was one of the driest summers in recent times it will also show that the incidences of forest fires were low especially compared with 2016 and 2017.

    This year, rainfall was high in the spring so forest fires were minimal. While ground vegetation was scorched from May to July, the cold dry winds that fan the flames during harsh spring conditions are rarely experienced during the summer months. However, there were fires, some of which have caused serious damage although small in scale and there were also near misses. Paul Brosnan of Veon Ltd, which has been at the forefront of the campaign to minimise forest fires with Ibec, said that the company’s forests escaped the widespread damage caused to state and private forests last year but like other forest companies the fire threat remained for most of the year. “For example, we controlled a bog fire recently – helped by some welcome rain – before it reached one of our forests in Co. Kildare, which would have been disastrous,” he said.

    Padraig Egan, SWS Forestry agreed that the incidences of fire damage were low this year. “We had a few fires in clients’ forests but the largest was 4ha, “ he said. “I think the public and landowners have reacted responsibly to warnings about careless burning which is a positive development.”

    Pat Neville of Coillte was relieved that the company’s forests had escaped the catastrophic fires of 2017. He said they had controlled a number of isolated forest fires around the country but ironically just as the dry period was coming to an end the company faced a serious fire in the Slieve Bloom Mountains which has some of the largest contiguous forest blocks in Ireland.

    “We have just extinguished a fire in the Slieve Blooms which jumped a fireline but our staff controlled it at the second firebreak, helped by the fire services and Air Corps,” he said. He maintained that timely intervention and the construction and maintenance of firebreaks were essential in minimising forest fires.