Forest Industries Ireland (FII) has said it is concerned that the new €1.3bn forestry programme places too many restrictions on lands that can be planted and that this will lead to very low levels of afforestation in the years ahead.

One FII member - a forestry company - has had to recently walk away from six in every 10 farms due to the new land restrictions.

Another forestry consultant has had to forego 2,000ac of farmland since mid-August that could have been planted under the last programme, but is now ruled out because of the new regulations.

The sector’s belief is that the new programme will fail to deliver more than 2,500ha of planting per year - far from the Government’s 8,000ha annual target.

This is despite large increases in the payments available to farmers for planting new forests. These forestry premiums for farmers have increased by up to 100% over the last programme.

Environmental restrictions

A huge amount of land that would be a candidate for forestry is now ruled out because of the presence of environmental restrictions.

FII’s member companies around the country are reporting a clear problem with finding sites that will qualify under the new programme. Foresters are visiting sites being put forward by farmers for planting and are having to tell these farmers that the area is ruled out because of the increased restrictions.

The problem is particularly acute in the western half of the country where a huge amount of land is restricted.

FII director Mark McAuley said: “This forestry programme has the potential to succeed and deliver enormous benefits to Ireland, but, right now, the feeling on the ground is that we are in trouble.

“We are closing down tens of thousands of hectares of land to forestry and this is stifling efforts to plant.

"If we don’t tackle this issue of land availability, then the Government’s planting targets will be missed and, with them, Ireland’s climate action targets. We cannot have a large-scale planting programme when so much land is proscribed,” he said.