National Farm Forestry Chairman, Pat Collins has said that the Government must act now to address the failed afforestation policy by ensuring that all productive land without environmental constraints is eligible under the programme.
“The latest afforestation figures from the Forest Service are startling. The sector will be lucky to achieve a planting programme of 4,000 hectares nationally this year; that is nearly 50% below the afforestation target set out in the Forestry Programme 2014 – 2020”, Pat Collins said.
He said the speed at which the afforestation programme has declined under the current programme is very concerning, particularly at a time when the demand for timber is rising steeply and prices have been increasing steadily.
“In 2016, the COFORD Land Availability for Afforestation report identified nearly 200,000 hectares of land that is technically suitable for afforestation, that is not being farmed and is outside the main environmental constraint areas ineligible under the scheme”, said Mr. Collins.
He said it is unfathomable that land that has a proven track record of producing commercial timber albeit over a longer rotation, that is not being farmed and therefore is not in competition with traditional farming enterprises, and that could generate additional income for farm families as well as economic activity in rural communities is being restricted from the scheme.
“It is frustrating that after years of work to develop a new site classification system and updated environmental requirements to ensure appropriate assessment of these lands the Government has failed to open the land up to the afforestation programme.”
The Forestry Chairman concluded by saying he is tired of the Government blaming the European Commission for the continued restriction of this land, particularly when farmers in Scotland are planting similar land types.
“The implications of the failed afforestation policy are far reaching and unless something is done immediately it jeopardises Ireland achieving both renewable energy and climate change targets as set out in the National Mitigation Plan, which are based on an annual afforestation programme of 10,000 hectares per annum”.