Changes to the rules on biodiversity areas within forestry plantations will result in an increase in the area for which farmers can get paid.

Minister of state for food, forestry and horticulture Andrew Doyle has made changes which mean the land farmers are obliged to set aside for environment enhancement and protection should not exceed the 15% Area of Biodiversity Enhancement (ABE) payable under the Afforestation Scheme.

The move has been welcomed by IFA farm forestry chair Pat Collins, who described the move as a “very positive development”.

Set aside

Environmental requirements for afforestation introduced in December 2016 increased the area that farmers were required to set aside for environmental protection on certain sites as a result of increased setbacks, particularly from water features.

Because of this, some farmers found that the ABE was in excess of the 15% payable under the Afforestation Scheme.

“There is no change to the setbacks distances under the requirement. However, the method for calculating the biodiversity areas has been revised so that certain setback can be planted with up to 20% native species and future canopy cover of planted areas is excluded from ABE area,” Collins said.

The changes could remove a stumbling block that had delayed 2017 plantings.

Many farmers who were reluctant to move ahead with planting because of the excessive ABE requirements could now proceed with the work.

The changes apply to all grant-aided plantations established after 1 November 2017.