Thursday, August 31, marks the deadline for applications for several important farming schemes in Northern Ireland. These include Zone 2 of the Soil Nutrient Health Scheme (SNHS), the Forestry Expansion Scheme (FES), and the Small Woodland Grant Scheme. Tom Elliott, the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) agriculture spokesperson, is urging farmers in the Fermanagh, west Tyrone, and west Armagh catchment area to sign up for Zone 2 of the SNHS. According to Elliott, this scheme will provide detailed soil-related information for every field within a farming business, making it a beneficial measure for all farmers to participate in. The MLA also emphasizes that failure to sign up for the SNHS will render farmers ineligible for future farm support measures.
Meanwhile, John Hetherington, the managing director of Premier Woodlands, has confirmed that starting from 2023, the FES will be fully supported by UK national funding. Previously, the scheme had received support from the European Union (EU). Hetherington believes that the FES, or a similar scheme, will continue in the future with possible revisions or updates. He emphasizes that forestry and woodland development present long-term investment opportunities for farmers and landowners, and they need certainty when planning for the future.
The Forest Service has announced that by 2050, 50,000 hectares of new woodland creation will need to be planted in response to legally binding climate change regulations in Northern Ireland. An additional 20,000 hectares may also be required to compensate for forest to bog restoration peatland that was previously planted with trees, mainly within the Forest Service Estate. These figures were revealed at a recent stakeholder meeting hosted by the Forest Service. Hetherington, who was present at the meeting, stated that the target is to have 12% of Northern Ireland’s total land area planted with trees by 2050. Forest Service will be publishing an action plan to clarify how this tree-planting strategy will be implemented. Hetherington adds that annual tree planting rates of up to 2,500 hectares will need to be achieved between now and 2050 to meet the climate change targets, which is almost 10 times the current planting figure.