Why is a new ash dieback scheme needed?

The issue of the ash dieback disease in ash trees continues to be a major source of concern in that sector.

AgriLand reported today, Thursday, June 11, that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine would shortly introduce a revised Reconstitution Scheme for plantations affected by ash dieback.

As an issue that is not necessarily to the forefront of people’s minds when they consider the most pressing concerns in the agriculture sector, it may be worth asking: Why is such a scheme needed?

According to some estimations, around 98% of the ash trees in the country will be “dead or compromised significantly in the next seven to 10 years”.

Vincent Nally, the farm forestry chairperson for the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA), said that “the hope is that 1% to 2% [of ash trees]” would become resistant to ash dieback.

But up to now, since the suspension of the original Reconstitution Scheme in 2018, the situation has been bleak for ash plantation owners, Nally explained.

“We have forestry owners who invested heavily, and contributed their land [to ash]…part of the problem is that the Reconstitution Scheme that was there was suspended over two years ago,” he said.

“Some farmers, over the years as they got older, might have put some of their land into forestry in the hope that they may have a pension or an alternative income in their later years. There are people with these diseased plantations, and their investment is probably worth nothing.

In terms of land value, because there is a liability sitting on it, it is virtually impossible to sell.

The IFA farm forestry chairperson also stressed that there is a public safety concern accruing from the issue of ash dieback.

“As these plantations become taller and more diseased, they become brittle, and there is a significant health and safety issue.

“There is significant investment by local authorities in the UK on affected trees at roadsides, because as the bows become more diseased, they become brittle, and are more likely to cause injury to those who might be walking under them,” Nally highlighted.

‘Win-win for department’

Nally went on to note that providing the necessary supports to turn the sector around would be a “win-win” for the department.

He explained: “There is a significant area of land that is going into negative territory regarding sequestering. These plantations are ‘going down’, they’re not ‘going up’.

“The department is talking about [planting] 8,000ha per year, but they have 20,000-odd hectares going into negative territory, and if it can get that back on to a positive trajectory on sequestering carbon, there’s a win there,” Nally argued.

He concluded by quoting one ash plantation owner he knows, who had told him that walking among her trees was like “visiting a graveyard”, such was the number of diseased trees.