The European Commission has given its approval to a €308 million Irish scheme aimed at supporting investments in afforestation. This scheme, which is in line with EU state aid rules, aims to expand the Irish national forest estate on both public and private land. The goal is to achieve 18% forest cover in Ireland by the end of 2027, compared to the current 11.6%. The commission believes this can be accomplished by establishing 8,000 hectares of new and diverse, multifunctional, and climate-resilient forests each year.
Under the afforestation scheme, companies of all sizes in the forestry sector will be eligible for direct grants, covering up to 100% of the eligible costs. The scheme will run until December 31, 2027. The commission has determined that this measure is necessary and appropriate to support afforestation in Ireland. It will not only strengthen environmental protection, including biodiversity and climate action, but also contribute to achieving the EU’s environmental and climate-related objectives. Additionally, it will strengthen the socio-economic fabric of rural areas. The commission also noted that the scheme will have an “incentive effect” as the beneficiaries would not carry out the investments without public support.
According to the latest Forestry Licensing Dashboard by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), 1,020 hectares of land have been planted in the first seven months of 2023. However, afforestation levels remain below last year’s figures. An additional 1,253 hectares of new plantings are needed in the coming months to reach the total of 2,273 hectares achieved in 2022. In July 2023, 233 hectares were planted, which is 6 hectares more than the same month last year. Overall, afforestation levels have been improving in the first half of this year. After reaching a low point in February and March with only 23 hectares and 82 hectares planted respectively, the number of hectares planted reached its highest level so far this year in June, with 274 hectares.
It is worth noting that Ireland’s €1.3 billion Forestry Programme 2023-2027, which was announced last year, is still awaiting approval from the European Commission.