The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine’s (DAFM) ash dieback support scheme is set to undergo an independent review. Senator Pippa Hackett, Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine with responsibility for forestry matters, announced the establishment of the independent review group on Wednesday, June 7th. The group will consist of three members of the board currently overseeing the implementation of Project Woodland: Jo O’Hara, former chief executive of the Scottish Forestry Commission; Jerry Grant, former managing director of Irish Water; and Matt Crowe, former director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The trio will review the existing and previous supports available to landowners with ash plantations funded under the National Forestry Programme that are infected with Chalara or ash dieback disease. They will engage with relevant stakeholders to seek their views on the current supports for landowners. The group is set to make a series of recommendations on the effectiveness of these supports to Minister Hackett within three months.
Minister Pippa Hackett commented on the establishment of the review group, saying, “Unfortunately, ash dieback is now endemic in our countryside. To date, my department has provided over €9 million in support to landowners with infected plantations by removing and replanting their sites with alternative species. We have also doubled the rates for this recently. As we approach 10 years of these supports, I have listened to the concerns of landowners and I have tasked an independent group to review existing department supports.”
The Minister added, “My department has received applications for assistance under these schemes for almost 6,500ha of grant-aided ash to date. It’s important with the upcoming introduction of a new forestry programme that farmers continue to have confidence in the forestry schemes and this review will be very timely.” Consultation with stakeholders will be an essential part of the review, and the group will be in direct contact with stakeholders to ensure that their voice is heard. The Minister expects to receive the group‘s final report by September 15th, after which she will fully consider its recommendations.
The first confirmed case of ash dieback in Ireland was made on October 12th, 2012, at a forestry plantation site that had been planted in 2009 with trees imported from continental Europe. In 2013, the government launched a reconstitution scheme to restore forests planted under the afforestation scheme. After it was determined that eradication of the disease was not feasible, the department launched the Reconstitution and Underplanting Scheme (RUS) in June 2020. The purpose of the new scheme was to clear all ash trees and replant with other species.
In March, Minister Hackett introduced an interim reconstitution scheme for ash dieback, which included doubling site clearance rates, increasing grant rates, and an improved premium regime. Farming organizations have long criticized the government’s treatment of farmers impacted by ash dieback, claiming that it has been among the main causes for the lack of interest in planting trees among farmers.
The review group’s findings will be closely watched by farmers and environmental groups alike, as the impact of ash dieback on Ireland’s forestry industry has been severe. The disease has spread rapidly, with up to 80% of ash trees in some areas affected. The government’s response to the crisis has been criticized by some as inadequate, with many farmers feeling that they have not received adequate support.
The review group’s recommendations will be crucial in determining the future of Ireland’s forestry industry and the government’s response to the ongoing ash dieback crisis. The group’s engagement with stakeholders will be essential in ensuring that the voices of those impacted by the disease are heard and that their concerns are taken into account in any future policy decisions.