Forestry owners who have been given the green light to clear ash dieback-infected plantations risk losing Department of Agriculture supports because they can’t get contractors to do the work.

Close to 280 forestry owners have been approved to remove infected woodlands under the Reconstitution of Ash Dieback Scheme, but many have yet to commence clearing trees.

Under the scheme rules, plantation owners have just four months to complete works from the date of receiving approval. However, organisations representing forestry owners maintain that meeting the deadline is increasingly difficult given the unavailability of contractors.

Derek McCabe of the Irish Forestry Owners (IFO) claimed there was “no logic to the four-month deadline” and questioned its “statutory basis”.

The Oldcastle, Co Meath farmer has 25ac planted to ash since 2002. After it was infected with ash dieback, he applied under the Reconstitution and Underplanting Scheme (RUS) to remove the trees in July 2022.

He eventually got approval to clear the trees on December 14 last year, but only has until March to do the work.

Application approval

“They [the Department] took 18 months to approve my application, and now they want the work done in four months. I don’t see the logic in this,” McCabe said.

The Meath farmer has been unable to get a contractor to do the work, because so many have left the sector due to the collapse in forestry planting over the last few years. Those still left in the sector are tied up felling mature plantations, he added.

The push to secure contractors has also driven up the removal costs significantly, McCabe claimed.

Actual cost

While €2,000/ha is available under the Department scheme to remove ash plantations, McCabe claimed that the actual cost has topped €3,000/ha for good sites – and much more for difficult locations.

IFA forestry chair Jason Fleming said the continuing difficulties faced by plantation owners highlighted the need to fully implement the recommendations of the ash dieback review.