The emphasis in the new forestry programme 2023 to 2027 is on afforestation schemes as expected because the objective is to increase forest cover in accordance with the recent Climate Action Plan and the two previous plans.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has dramatically increased afforestation premium payments so that the farmer who opts for native or mixed conifer-broadleaf planting has a wide range of forest type (FT) schemes to choose from. For example native forest establishment attracts an annual premium payment of €1,100/ha for 20 years compared with €665/ha over 15 years in the last programme. The farmer who opts for 65% Sitka spruce (the remaining 30% comprising broadleaves and open biodiverse areas) will receive €746/ha over 20 years compared with €510/ha over 15 years previously.

But the new programme is not only confined to afforestation. For the first time, it also introduces a number of schemes aimed at existing forest owners, especially those who wish to change to continuous cover forestry (CCF) as outlined by Paddy Purser (page 46). This is a first as it not only provides grant aid to switch from conventional forestry practice but also provides annual premiums. It is not the only scheme that attracts premium payments as outlined in Table 1.

The details of a number of these have yet to be worked out, in particular forests for water, emergent forests, CCF and native woodland (NW) conversion schemes.

Grant aid of up to €6,000/ha is available for NW conservation and NW ecological priority schemes, plus annual seven-year premiums payments of €500/ha.

Ash dieback

These schemes, while innovative, are ineffectual until EU State Aid approval is granted When this is received, the Department needs to introduce realistic timelines for granting licences.

The final missing part of the jigsaw is the urgent need to introduce a realistic ash dieback compensation scheme.

Owners of ash forests will have an opportunity to discuss the impact of ash dieback this Saturday in the Dome, Semple Stadium, Thurles. “They will be joined by economists, forestry contractors and ex-Coillte staff,” said Simon White, chair of Limerick and Tipperary Woodland Owners (LTWO).

Organised by LTWO, the conference will begin at 10am. Simon White told the Irish Farmers Journal that all ash growers are welcome. Admission is free.