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.
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.”
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.