The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) has issued an estimated 695 forestry road licences to date, latest figures indicate.
Construction of forest roads is exempt from the planning system unless it connects to a public road.
According to the DAFM, all forest road construction “must be built in a manner that protects water quality and in accordance with the National Council for Forest Research and Development (COFORD) Forest Road Manual (2006)”.
This outlines that roadside drainage “must not be allowed to discharge directly into natural watercourses and should be allowed to run out through buffer strips”.
All forest road construction projects must secure a licence and the written consent of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
These regulations apply to the entire forest road project and also govern access to and from public roads.
The government is currently in the process of “considering and integrating feedback from stakeholders and the public” following the public consultation on the proposed new €1.3 billion Forestry Programme for 2023-2027.
The new programme intends to increase premiums for planting trees by between 46% and 66% and to extend the premium period from 15 to 20 years for farmers.
The DAFM has outlined that the programme “will cover all costs to establish a forest”, and depending on the type of forest, could pay landowners more than €1,100/ha for up to 20 years.
The programme will be 100% exchequer funded but is subject to state-aid approval by the European Commission.
According to the DAFM, the programme “will come into force in early 2023” once approval is secured from the commission.
State aid guidelines in the agricultural and forestry sectors and in rural areas expired on December 31, 2022 and are scheduled to be replaced with a revised version this month.
The Irish government cannot submit a formal application for state aid in relation to the new forestry programme until the revised guidelines are in place.
Interim forestry scheme
Minister Charlie McConalogue has confirmed that his department is “engaged” with the commission which has “facilitated the submission of a pre-notification” for state aid approval in November ahead of the formal submission for January 2023.
The minister said that the DAFM continues to engage bilaterally with the relevant directorate generals in the commission “in order to advance the state aid approval”.
In the meantime, Minister McConalogue has approved an interim afforestation scheme and an interim forest road scheme based on the De Minimis rule which effectively makes them exempt from state aid rules.
In a letter to all registered foresters and other stakeholders, the DAFM said that these schemes are being offered to applicants who held “a valid technical approval for afforestation or roads” on December 31, 2022 – but had not commenced work on planting or road construction in 2022, and did not wish to wait until the launch of the Forestry Programme 2023–2027.
However, the department has stressed that if anyone opts to take part in the interim schemes they will not be permitted to “revert” to the new forestry programme once it is in place.
For landowners who may already have a valid technical approval in place for afforestation or a road scheme but who had not commenced work in 2022, they now, according to the DAFM, have the option of:
- Postponing planting or road construction until the launch of the new Forestry Programme 2023-2027 and opting into the new programme;
- Opting into the interim afforestation/forest road schemes (on the De Minimis basis) with the grants and premiums payable for these schemes outlined in the proposed grants and premiums detailed in the Forestry Programme 2023–2027.
However, if someone with a valid approval wants to wait until the launch of new forestry programme, then the department has said they do not have to take any further action at this time.