The scheme provides funding for landowners for the establishment of forestry of at least 5ha in size to cover establishment costs and lost agricultural income for 10 years.

The first phase of the scheme opened last November and resulted in 180ha of forest being planted in NI, Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister Michelle McIlveen has said.

The scheme is funded under the Rural Development Programme and has changed since the first phase with increased funding to cover establishment costs from 70% to 100% and a shorter period for annual payments from 15 years to 10 years.

Competitive applications

Applications are judged competitively on the basis of which application represents the best value for money. Costs covered by the scheme include plant supply, planting cost, fencing and weeding. Although the second phase of the scheme covers 100% of costs, DAERA has said that costs that are part-financed by the applicant will be favoured in the selection process.

Annual payments for lost agricultural income are based on if the land was arable, improved grassland or unimproved grassland as well as its position in lowland, disadvantaged areas (DA) or severely disadvantaged area (SDA).

For both arable and improved grassland, annual payments per hectare are paid at £425 for lowland, £380 for DA and £280 for SDA. For unimproved grassland, rates are £115 for both lowland and DA and £75 for SDA.

Basic Payment

Land that is eligible for Basic Payment and is converted to forestry as part of an EU forestry scheme remains eligible for the Basic Payment Scheme for the duration of the forestry scheme. The minimum period woodland must remain for from the first payment under the Forest Expansion Scheme is 20 years.

Opening the scheme on Thursday, Minister McIlveen said that she was aware of the challenges facing the land-based and forestry sector due to global markets, exchange rate fluctuations and international trade.

“I will be engaging to help forge a new relationship with Europe and to develop a support framework that meets the needs and aspirations of the forestry sector,” she said.