Written answers

Thursday, 9 March 2023

Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine

Forestry Sector

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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385. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the extent to which the ongoing forestry development programme continues with due regard for the necessity to use marginal lands as opposed to lands suitable for food production; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12200/23]

Photo of Charlie McConalogueCharlie McConalogue (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy may be aware that my Department has recently secured funding of €1.3 billion for the Forestry Programme 2023-2027. Subject to State Aid approval, this will support the biggest and best-funded Forestry Programme to date in Ireland. This funding provides unprecedented incentives to encourage the planting of trees that can provide a valuable addition to farm income and also to help meet our national climate and biodiversity objectives.

The new Programme will be the means by which we implement our Forest Strategy to 2030, which in turn has been informed by the Shared National Vision for Forestry for Trees, Woods and Forests in Ireland until 2050. The Shared National Vision, the draft Forest Strategy to 2030, and the draft Forestry Programme 2023 – 2027 were all designed following extensive public and stakeholder consultation. The draft Forestry Programme includes proposed attractive grant and premiums that will support landowners to plant trees.

The proposed Forestry Programme will provide incentives for the planting of lands currently in agriculture to expand the national forest estate in line with planting targets outlined in the Climate Action Plan 2023. This forestry programme will also see the planting of lands marginal for agriculture but will exclude areas of lands described as unenclosed lands and other sensitive areas. These lands generally consist of peat soils and are located in areas which are environmentally sensitive. Such lands were planted in previous programmes up to a maximum of 20% of any approved area for afforestation.

Over the last number of years the area of suitable unenclosed lands planted has dropped and amounted to just 7.06 ha in 2022. These lands when planted, which generally contain peat soils are often not very productive and can also be a net emitter of carbon which is contrary to reducing emissions in the land use, land use change and forestry sector (LULUC

It should be noted that all applications for Afforestation approval under the Afforestation Scheme will undergo an environmental procedure to ensure that proposed projects are compatible with the protection and enhancement of the environment. Each application is assessed for suitability through the Department's Environmental Requirements and Land Types for Afforestation documents, along with a silvicultural suitability as outlined in the Forest Standards Manual. Each individual application under goes an Environmental Appropriate Assessment (EIA) and Appropriate Assessment (AA) and must be compliant with all national legislation and EU Directives.

Afforestation of lands does require a switch from agriculture to forestry and further work is ongoing as part of a national land use review currently taken place. Phase 1 of this review is now complete, which assessed the current area of land use across a broad range of categories. Phase 2 will take place this year and will examine policies on land use.

I believe that the proposed forestry programme has the potential to deliver lasting benefits for climate change, biodiversity, wood production, economic development and quality of life and I am committed to working with stakeholders in this area.


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