Financial supports to reward landowners who replant forestry ground after clear-felling are being considered by the Department of Agriculture.

Such supports could involve payments for carbon credits or loans provided to growers during the early years after replanting, Department of Agriculture secretary general, Brendan Gleeson, told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture.

However, Gleeson was adamant that the legal requirement to replant forestry ground after harvesting will not be removed.

“What we will end up with is deforestation if we allow forests to be removed once they are harvested,” he claimed.

By supporting the Forestry Programme “the State had invested in an asset that is intended to contribute to mitigating our climate change burden”, Gleeson maintained.

Allowing landowners to leave forestry once the initial plantation is harvested mean that State investment would be effectively lost after 30 years, he maintained.

“We just cannot do that,” Gleeson said.

However, the Department boss accepted that some financial support was required by landowners in the period after replanting.

“The general point is we have to think of imaginative ways [of supporting plantation owners]; possibly involving carbon credits, to get rewards for that second rotation,” Gleeson said.

Landowners could not be left waiting until thinning or harvesting the second plantation to get a return from the crop, he added.

Gleeson also suggested that some form of loan mechanism could be explored by the Department.

“We could develop a mechanism for some kind of more constant reward through the second rotation. It could be some kind of a loan,” he said.

Meanwhile, Barry Delany of the Department’s forestry service said a new pilot programme is being launched to incentivise continuous cover forestry.

The scheme will involve a payment per hectare for seven years after replanting. It will be announced in the coming weeks, Delany said.