Written answers

Thursday, 31 March 2022

Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine

Departmental Strategies

Photo of Joe CareyJoe Carey (Clare, Fine Gael)
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124. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will fundamentally reform the ash dieback replanting scheme given the dramatic spread of the disease throughout the country; if he will consider as part of these reforms some pilot schemes to change the use of the land to other uses that are in line with our climate change targets; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16853/22]

Photo of Charlie McConalogueCharlie McConalogue (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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Ash dieback disease was first found in Ireland in late 2012 and is now widespread throughout the country. The year on year spread and impact of the disease on ash, one of our most important native broadleaves is expected to increase whether ash is found in a forest, hedgerow or roadside. The landscape, cultural, ecological and economic impact will be significant.

The exact origin of ash dieback disease in Ireland or when it was introduced are unknown. It is likely that the disease was introduced into Ireland on infected plants for use in either forest, farm or roadside planting.

The experience of ash dieback disease provides clear evidence of the increasing threat to our plant health status through a combination of trade and climate change.

The Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine has taken a number of significant steps in response to this experience, including the publication of its Plant Health and Biosecurity Strategy, the establishment of a new area of expertise in the Department in Pest Risk Analysis and in financial support to growers impacted to allow them to remove infected ash and replace it with other suitable species. I understand that a small percentage of the ash population thought to be 1%-2% may be disease tolerant. The Department has and continues to support a number of research initiatives in order to identify tolerant ash trees for use in ash breeding programmes for the future.

Since the first finding of ash dieback disease in Ireland, the Department has provided support totalling over €7 million to owners of ash plantations impacted by ash dieback disease through the ash dieback reconstitution scheme (introduced in 2013) and more recently the Reconstitution and Underplanting Scheme (RUS – Ash dieback) introduced in July 2020.

Applications for that scheme are received regularly and decisions are issued as the assessment of the applications are complete. To date, my Department has received 574 applications covering 2,325ha

and has issued 178 decisions for 575ha.

The Forestry Licensing Plan 2022 was published earlier this year and deals with projected licensing output and approvals for support schemes and may be found at gov.ie - Forestry Licensing Plan 2022 (www.gov.ie), A key target of the plan is to refocus of the delivery on approvals from the Reconstitution and Underplanting Scheme (RUS) (Ash Dieback). Many RUS applications are screened in for Appropriate Assessment and are referred to ecology. Of these, any that propose replacing the ash crop with conifer species currently require planning permission. The Department is engaging with the Department of Housing Local Government and Heritage (DHLGH), to explore the possibility of removing the planning permission requirement for such files, subject to compliance with existing EU laws and regulations.

The Department is continuing to work with its counterparts in the DHLGH, on progressing this issue.

The current scheme provides 100% grant aid to landowners to clear their ash crop, replant with an alternate species and manage their forest until successfully established. While farmers have an option to switch to a range of forest types including agroforestry there are currently no plans to introduce measures supporting the change of land use to non forestry uses


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