Removing ash dieback-infected plantations will cost farmers almost €4,000/ha more on average than the grant available for carrying out the work.

This could seriously impact farmer take-up of the Ash Dieback Action Plan, as many plantation owners may not be able to afford the increased cost of clearing infected forests.

John Roche of Arbor Forest Management Services said the cost of clearing infected ash plantations this year varied from €2,600/ha to €11,000/ha, and averaged €5,800/ha.

The grant available for clearing infected ash plantations is €2,000/ha.

Forestry owners who opt to clear ash plantations can also qualify for a €5,000/ha Climate Action Performance Payment, where they join Ash Dieback Action Plan and commit to replanting the lands.

However, grower representatives have warned that many landowners with small ash plantations may not be able to afford the cost of removing infected plantations.

They have called for payments under the Ash Dieback Action Plan to be increased, to reflect the higher removal costs. It is understood that the average ash plantation size is around 3ha across the 16,000ha covered by the Ash Dieback Action Plan, with close to 40% of the sites extending to just 2ha or less.

Most landowners who are taking out infected ash plantations were forced to subsidise the removal costs from timber sales, Roche said.

However, some ash plantations were in a “horrendous” condition and the cost of clearing these forests would be prohibitive, given the removal grant that is currently available, Roche maintained.

Landowners would also have higher replanting and maintenance costs for any new plantations on sites that were hit by ash dieback, Roche added.

“Some farmers won’t get involved in the hassle of taking out these sites. And if they do decide to leave the plantations in situ, it would be hard to blame them,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Irish Forest Owners (IFO) and Limerick-Tipperary Woodland Owners (LTWO) have rejected suggestions by Minister of State Pippa Hackett that there was “constructive engagement” at the first meeting of the Ash Dieback Taskforce last week.

Heated exchanges at the meeting followed demands by senior Department officials that all members of the taskforce sign up to its terms of reference, which limited discussions to the implementation of ash dieback package as it is currently framed.

This was opposed by the IFO and LTWO.

Simon White of the LTWO refused to sign up to the taskforce’s terms of reference.