Forest owners in Ireland have expressed their outrage over the rejection of compensation by the Minister of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue, for plantations destroyed by ash dieback. The Irish Forest Owners (IFO) is calling on the government to allow all forest owners with ash plantations to avail of the full afforestation premiums upon replanting, along with a compensation package. The association believes that the government needs to find a method to properly compensate forest owners whose now worthless plantations have been destroyed by ash dieback.
Nicholas Sweetman, chairperson of IF0, said that the Minister has been consistent in not recognising that the forestry industry is in crisis. The appalling treatment of farmers who are affected by ash dieback has been one of the most critical causes of the current lack of interest in planting among farmers. Sweetman believes that if the country is to meet its climate change commitments, the Minister should be searching for ways to restore confidence in the sector rather than pulling the rug from under farmers who have seen their investment in forestry wiped out through no fault of their own.
Derek McCabe, forest owner and chair of the North East Forestry Group, said that replacing trees with saplings is not restoration. McCabe said that he is now back to day one. His trees have been growing for more than 20 years, and it will be another 20 years before his forest is restored to where it was before the disease struck. Until then, he cannot make an income from that land, but he will still have to invest time and money on vegetation control, pruning the new trees and general upkeep.
Holly Cairns, Social Democrats leader and Cork South West TD, has also called on the government to assist farmers and landowners with the costs of the removal and assessing trees affected by ash dieback. Cairns believes that farmers and landowners need support now. They are legally and financially responsible for what is a public safety matter and expect the government to step up. Cairns has also raised issues with government schemes to date, which she says have not been adequate to deal with the challenges farmers are facing on the ground. Even improvements to the interim reconstitution scheme for ash dieback do not cover the full costs associated with clearing and replanting affected sites or compensate for the loss of timber earnings.
It is essential for the Irish government to take action and support forest owners who have been affected by ash dieback. This disease is caused by a fungus that infects ash trees and causes leaf loss, crown dieback and bark lesions. It has been spreading throughout Europe since the 1990s and was first identified in Ireland in 2012. According to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, it is estimated that around 25% of the national forest estate is made up of ash, and the disease could potentially impact up to 80% of those trees.
The loss of ash trees could have a significant impact on the forestry industry in Ireland. Ash is an important species for the production of high-quality timber, and it is also used for firewood, furniture, and sports equipment. The forestry industry contributes approximately €2.3bn to the Irish economy each year and supports around 12,000 jobs.
The Irish government has introduced a range of measures to try to tackle the spread of ash dieback, including a scheme to compensate forest owners for the loss of income resulting from the felling of infected trees. However, many forest owners feel that these measures are not sufficient and that more needs to be done to support them.
The IFO has called on the government to provide a comprehensive compensation package that covers the full costs associated with clearing and replanting affected sites and compensates for the loss of timber earnings. The association believes that this is essential to restore confidence in the sector and encourage farmers to continue planting trees.
In conclusion, the Irish government needs to take action to support forest owners who have been affected by ash dieback. The forestry industry is an essential part of the Irish economy, and it is crucial that steps are taken to protect it. The government must provide a comprehensive compensation package that covers the full costs associated with clearing and replanting affected sites and compensates for the loss of timber earnings. This will help to restore confidence in the sector and encourage farmers to continue planting trees, which is essential for meeting the country’s climate change commitments.