A farm organisation and the forestry sector have united to call on the government to implement major reforms to kickstart the stalled afforestation programme.

The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA), Forest Industries Ireland (FII) and the Irish Timber Growers’ Association (ITGA) believe that the current regulatory system is too bureaucratic and complex.

The groups outlined that afforestation is stalled at 2,000ha/year when it needs to be 10,000ha to meet Ireland’s legally binding climate change commitments by 2050.

Ireland’s forests contain over 300 million tonnes of carbon and will absorb an additional five million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) this year.

They said that tree planting has fallen by over 80% in the past decade; just 360ha was planted by farmers last year.

They believe that farmer confidence in forestry has been undermined by the licensing debacle and outdated forestry schemes.

A new forestry strategy and set of schemes are due to be unveiled in the coming months by government.

The farmers and foresters called on the government to implement the following measures:

  • Reform the licensing system to reduce bureaucracy and bring an end to long delays;
  • Increase forestry grants and premiums to enhance the financial proposition to plant trees;
  • Simplify and improve the 2023-2027 Forestry Programme schemes;
  • Reduce restrictions on new lands to plant forestry;
  • Invest significant effort in the development of payments for ecosystem services, including enhancing biodiversity, providing habitats and sequestering carbon.

Director of FII, Mark McAuley said that tree planting figures are expected to remain around 2021 levels this year.

“What we need is a major injection of money, energy and confidence into our national forestry programme. Now is the time for action,” he said.

“The forest strategy might be sound but that’s no good without major improvements to the forestry programme to make it much more rewarding for farmers and foresters,” McAuley added.

forestry licences delays raised by TD Sean Sherlock lumber trade greenways Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure Scheme forestry mandatory farm forestry Afforestation Hackett

IFA Farm Forestry Committee chair, Jason Fleming noted that farmers are crucial decision makers who will ultimately determine how their land is utilised.

“The current regulatory system is not fit for purpose and does not support planting and management of forests at farm scale. It is too bureaucratic and needs to be reformed,” he said.

“Successive policy decisions have failed farmers and these need to be addressed in both the new forestry strategy and programme if confidence is to be restored and the opportunities offered by forestry to meet both biodiversity and climate objectives realised.

Chair of the ITGA, Brendan Lacey said that of the €2 billion in payments made to farmers in 2019 by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), just over €90 million was allocated for forestry.

“This imbalance in supports must be addressed to provide significant additional supports for forestry to reflect the public goods, such as biodiversity, carbon sequestration, improved air quality and others provided by farmers and landowners who plant lands.

“Only through such rebalancing of supports will Ireland achieve its ambitious climate action targets,” Lacey concluded.