EU Commission extends state aid for National Forestry Programme

The European Commission has agreed to an extension of the state aid approval for Ireland’s National Forestry Programme for 2021.

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) with responsibility for forestry, Pippa Hackett has acknowledged the importance of the extension.

“This is good news which will provide assurance to those who wish to apply for grants under the current forestry programme,” Minister Hackett said.

“The extension was necessary as there were delays in issuing new EU guidelines for state aid in the agriculture and forestry sector, but this gives legal certainty for the continuation of the programme.”

New model for forestry

The minister has outlined the scope the extension provides her for delivering a new model for forestry.

She stated: “This extended period gives us a much needed opportunity to look afresh at forestry in Ireland.

We know we need to build and improve on the existing model to provide ecosystem services, income, jobs and recreational opportunities as well as contributing to our challenging environmental goals.

“I want to oversee the design of that model and am fully committed to the consultation with all stakeholders which will help inform a new Forest Strategy and deliver a sustainable forestry programme.

“Clearly we still have some way to go to meet the ambition we have set ourselves but I intend to build on the momentum we have created, so that we not only increase the number of licences issued to land and forest owners in the months ahead, but we also design a model of woodland creation which works for all,” she added.

The minister said that 2020 was a difficult year for many in the sector but said the trend is encouraging and has continued into 2021.

I believe that the recent improvements allied to the confirmed extension of our schemes for another year means that we can look forward to 2021 with more hope for forestry in Ireland. I will continue to engage intensively with all interested stakeholders on these issues,” the minister said.

Forestry licences

On October 1, 2020, DAFM had 4,832 applications on hand for processing. 1,045 new licences have issued since then and the department currently has 4,453 licences on hand for processing when new applications received since are included.

A breakdown of these figures is below:

  • The total number of licences issued in 2020 was 2,593;
  • 1,045 new licences have issued since October 1, 2020. This positive trend has continued into January with 177 new licences issued in the first two weeks.

The department has provided the following figures for felling:

  • The volume licenced in 2020 was just over 5 million cubic metres (m³) – down from 6.5 million m³  licensed in 2019;
  • 40% of this output or 2 million cubic metres was licenced between October and December. This rate of progress has continued into January with 444,000m³ licenced in the first two weeks of the new year;
  • 2,760 felling applications are on hand at present. This is down from 3,230 applications on hand at October 1, 2020;
  • Since October 1, 29 felling licence decisions have been appealed for 474ha/124,803m³.

Afforestation

  • Licences to provide for 4,300ha of new afforestation issued in 2020 – the same figure as 2019. 2,433 new hectares were planted in 2020;
  • There were 960 afforestation licence applications on hand on October 1, 2020; 1,009 afforestation licences are on hand at present. 172 sites have been licensed since October 1 at 1,639ha;
  • Afforestation licences have a three-year validity and a total of 4,900ha remains licenced and available for planting with a valid afforestation licence and not subject to appeal;
  • Broadleaf trees made up 34% of all new planting In 2020. This is an increase from 21% three years ago and means that the 30% broadleaf planting target set out in the Forestry Programme has been exceeded for the first time;
  • Since October 1, 23 afforestation licences were appealed totalling 306ha.

Forest roads

  • 129km of forest roads were licensed in 2020. This compares to 195km in 2019 and both are above the target in the Climate Action Plan of 125km per year;
  • Since October 1, 10 roads licences were appealed amounting to 5.2km;
  • There were 642 forest road applications on hand at October 1, 2020; 684 road licences are on hand at present.