If the success of the new Forestry Programme (2023-2027) depends on financial incentives and the variety of forest types (FTs) on offer, then it stands a good chance of succeeding. There is a planting scheme for everyone, regardless of scale.
The farmer who wishes to plant small areas and who doesn’t want to go through an expensive licensing system has an attractive Native Tree Area (NTA) scheme to choose from which provides annual premiums up to €2,284/ha.
This facilitates planting areas between 0.1ha and 2ha including field corners, exposed sites and land along watercourses.
At the other end of the scale, larger more commercially oriented forests attract 20-year premiums for farmers and 15 years for other investors.
So what’s not to like about this new programme? When environmental constraints are factored in, the area of land suitable for all types of forestry – especially semi-commercial afforestation – reduces significantly.
I use the term “semi-commercial” because commercial forestry is no longer an option.
The programme has a mandatory requirement that limits commercial forestry to no more than 65% of any parcel of land, while the overall national afforestation target is at least 50% native species.
While foresters regard these environmental requirements as strenuous, they have adapted as annual afforestation now contain 40% mainly native broadleaves. But this has come at a cost, as afforestation has plummeted.
Lack of timelines in achieving licences, rapidly reducing land availability for forestry and a prohibitively costly and time consuming licensing system have been identified as major barriers.
Few afforestation applications will now receive licences without at least one environmental report.
This is a major initial cost to cover reports by ecologists, ornithologists and possibly other specialists in addition to the forester’s own expenditure.
Most farmers and foresters don’t have the resources to cover these costs which are lost if the application is refused. This is like buying a raffle ticket that may not even be entered for the draw.
The forester’s role at the pre-planting stage needs to be funded by the Department in a forestry promotional campaign that acknowledges a partnership approach in achieving an 8,000ha annual afforestation programme.