Seanad debates

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Update on Implementation of National Forestry Programme: Statements


10:30 am

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent) | Oireachtas source

I acknowledge the enormous work the Minister of State has done in horticulture, forestry and other areas for which he is responsible. Last week I was in the wonderful house in Avondale. When summing up, the Minister of State might touch on the plans for that. In the context of forestry, we have to think of the bigger picture and that includes biodiversity and the potential for more jobs. We have to look at the training sector as it pertains to horticulture and forestry. We have spoken about broadleaf trees but we need to look at our nursery stock production for them.

There is the potential for jobs in this sector and training programmes are a part of that. I acknowledge what Teagasc is doing and anyone who reads the Irish Farmers' Journalregularly will have noticed the series of forestry seminars it has been running over the past few months, and the workshops it has held across the country to which huge numbers have turned up.

A lot of people are looking at setting aside a certain amount of land.Clearly we do not want good, productive agricultural land used for forestry. That would not be the way to go but there are marginal lands that are very suitable for forestry. There is enormous potential for job creation here. We must consider, in particular, the area of soft tourism. There are some amazing forest parks in this country, including Avondale forest park in County Wicklow where there is a master plan to do bigger and greater things at that location and rightly so. It is a beautiful place which was also the location of one of the State's first forestry schools.

There is a significant amount of potential in forestry. I wish to acknowledge the work of Teagasc in particular. Many young people who fall out of mainstream education would benefit from involvement in the forestry sector. We must develop more options such as apprenticeships in forestry and related horticultural areas.

When I mentioned to a few colleagues from Leitrim that I would be involved in this debate today they immediately referenced the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association as well as talking about lovely Leitrim. We all know that farmers cannot get money from banks to buy land. It is possible, however, to get loans from the European Investment Bank at 1% for investment in forestry. A young farmer wanting to expand will not be able to get a loan from a bank at 1%. We all know that and the arguments associated with it. The Minister of State knows, as someone who is involved in agriculture, that some of the lands in Leitrim are marginal. However, he also knows that weanlings and other livestock can be reared and can thrive on marginal lands at certain times of the year, as happens in County Leitrim. It is a question of looking and tailor-making what is happening. The monoculture of spruce is detrimental, particularly up there. A balance must be struck but if one is surrounded on three sides by massive forestry, what does that say? Leitrim is dying. Parts of Leitrim are dying but people are not listening. There is the potential to develop a balanced forestry sector there but it must be done in conjunction with the existing communities. I met a family who approached an auctioneer with a view to buying 50 ha or 60 ha in Leitrim last year. They were refused because they could not get enough funding. They went to owners of the land who were their neighbours. The owners said that they would love to sell the land to them but that a private investor wanted to buy it. The family could not compete against the investor who is buying up large tracts of land up there. It is sad and while it involved neighbours, it is all about money at the end of the day. We have already spoken about the need for broadleaf plantations. I know that people from Leitrim are tuning into this debate today and they want me to point out that there are disaster zones in that county. There are communities dying in Leitrim because of the policy that has been pursued in relation to forestry. That needs to be addressed.

I have touched on the issue of training and encouraging more forestry. As previous speakers have said, we need new forestry plantations. Of course we must replenish and replace but we must also set ambitious targets for new plantations. We can have a very comprehensive forestry plan which goes hand in hand with productive agriculture. However, we need to look at training and attracting people with the necessary skills to the sector. Having seen forests in Europe, particularly in Germany, I believe there is enormous potential for soft tourism around national forests. I know that this is outside of the Minister of State's remit but it is something that must be explored further. The capacity in this area is considerable, as is evident from forests in the Dublin mountains. South Dublin and Dun-Laoghaire Rathdown County Councils are working on cycling tracks, tourism trails and so on, which provide benefits to both locals and tourists. I urge the Department to further explore the enormous potential in this area. I thank the Minister of State for the comprehensive report he provided to the House today.


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