The partnership between Coillte and a UK asset management company to set up a fund to purchase land for the development of forestry will make land availability issues “even worse”.

That’s according to the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA), which said it is alarmed at the proposals.

Speaking today (Tuesday, January 10), Dermot Kelleher, the association’s president, called for an “urgent rethink” on how to achieve forestry goals.

“Any proposals that centre around selling Irish farmland from under the feet of Irish farmers are unacceptable to the ICSA,” he said.

London-headquartered Gresham House, which also has Irish operations, confirmed last Friday (January 6) that it has teamed up with Coillte to roll out the new ‘Irish Strategic Forestry Fund’.

In a statement, Gresham House said the fund has put in place “an operational management agreement with Coillte” and that the fund “would benefit from Coillte’s long-term track record operating in the Irish forestry sector”.

The UK asset management company also said that the fund will “acquire existing forest assets and when fully deployed, will represent a portfolio of approximately 12,000ha of new and existing forests” in Ireland.

According to Kelleher, such a deal would “inevitably adversely impact farmers in the west of Ireland as well as others on poorer land”.

“As such, it would also disproportionately affect suckler and sheep farmers and make land availability – which is already a problem – even worse,” Kelleher added.

Kelleher remarked that the recently published Climate Action Plan did not mention the sale of land to a foreign investment fund as part of climate mitigation actions.

“Neither did it mention driving environmentally sustainable drystock farmers off the land but that is exactly what these proposals would do by pricing local farmers out,” the ICSA president added.

“It would amount to a suckler, beef and sheep cull in everything but name.

“ICSA is clear that any trees planted must be planted by Irish farmers and must be done so on a voluntary basis and for the benefit of Irish farmers. It is also vital that any carbon credits accrued from such planting are secured for the benefit of those farmers and no one else,” Kelleher commented.

He added: “It is beyond unacceptable that any sitting government should facilitate the large-scale purchasing of land by foreign investors at the expense of Irish farmers. A rethink on the whole forestry strategy is now urgent.”