‘Forestry expansion threatens the very fabric of rural life’

The level of forestry expansion is threatening the very fabric of rural life, according to a spokesperson for the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA), Gerry Loftus.

The INHFA has called for a radical overhaul of payments under the Afforestation Grant and Premium Scheme; it has proposed the introduction of a 50km radius limit for forestry premium payments.

Loftus explained: “Currently annual payments in excess of €600/ha can be received irrespective of where you live and who or what you are.”

Meanwhile, Loftus continued to add how these “premium and possible futuristic carbon credits are the main driving forces behind the forestry expansion”.

The INHFA spokesperson believes that unless radical changes are made to the “premium and the establishment grant”, then the level of forestry expansion will continue to threaten “the fabric of rural life”.

This threat could become a distinct reality throughout western seaboard counties unless these changes are carried out, Loftus added.

“The INHFA is proposing that the payment of any future premium and establishment grant for forestry would require that the recipient’s main residential residence is within 50km of the forestry site.

“For companies this rule would also apply for their main headquarters,” he said.

This plan would benefit local farmers and rural communities, Loftus added.

“It would not impact on local farmers who wanted to plant some of their land; it would eliminate companies and others coming to counties, such as Leitrim, and using that land potential as a carbon write-off – at no cost to them, but at an enormous cost to the local community,” he concluded.

Some of the key objectives outlined in the scheme, include: increasing Ireland’s forest cover to 18%; establishing 10,000ha of new forests and woodlands per annum, subject to the availability of funds and land; and to provide at least 30% of the national area afforested with broad-leaved species during the programme period.

The scheme also hopes to increase the average area of forests, while providing greater access to the public road network.