Thursday, 12 October 2017
Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine
149. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if the 20% rule on planting unenclosed land and replacing it with a system that assesses productivity and environmental suitability for forestry will be removed; the evidence base that was based at formulating the 20% figure; if other member states have such a rule; and if they assess a geographic area for planting on a case by case basis. [43354/17]
The Department's Land Types for Afforestation document, released in March 2016, sets out a system to assess the productivity of land for afforestation. This system is based on the scoring of various indicator plant species and is derived from previous work spearheaded by Teagasc. This system is used to identify to which, of three separate categories, land is assigned; these categories are either Suitable Land (Grant and Premium Category 2-12), Suitable Land (Grant and Premium Category 1) or Unsuitable Land. The second category, Suitable Land: Grant and Premium Category 1, is referred to as productive marginal land. Currently, the ‘20% rule’ still applies. This rule, introduced in 2010 for silvicultural and environmental reasons, stipulates that such land cannot exceed 20% of the total area of an afforestation application.
As it forms part of the Forestry Programme 2014-2020, my Department cannot unilaterally lift this restriction. However, my Department has held discussions with the European Commission with a view to revising this rule, in light of the Land Types for Afforestation procedure and the new Environmental Requirements for Afforestation, released in December 2016. A further meeting with the European Commission on this subject is planned for next month.
My Department is not aware of similar arrangements regarding the 20% rule in other Member States.
My Department publishes annual Afforestation statistics, which are available on its website. Those statistics include numbers of farmers and non-farmers who participate in afforestation planting each year. A breakdown of numbers is indicated in the table below, for 2014 to 2016, which are the most recent available figures.
It should be noted that the non-farmer category is primarily made up of recently retired farmers or the family members of the landowner in question. On that basis I am satisfied that the vast bulk of the investment under the programme is delivered to, and remains in, rural Ireland.