Government’s €1.3 Billion Forestry Programme Faces Competition Due to Nitrates Action Programme
The government’s new €1.3 billion Forestry Programme may encounter difficulties in acquiring land due to the Nitrates Action Programme, according to a member of the Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture and the Marine. Senator Paul Daly raised concerns with Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue, and Minister of State for land use and biodiversity, Pippa Hackett, stating that the impact of the recent water quality review on derogation farmers had not been taken into account during the development of the forestry plan. Senator Daly emphasized that competition for land is likely to intensify, not only from dairy farmers but also from tillage farmers, which could reduce the availability of land for forestry.
Minister McConalogue and Minister Hackett appeared before the Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture and the Marine on Wednesday, October 4th, to provide an update on both the forestry programme and the government’s strategy. Minister McConalogue stated that the programme aims to expand, protect, and develop Ireland’s forests and forestry sector in an environmentally sustainable manner. However, he acknowledged the declining interest in forestry and the need for farmers to actively participate in tree planting. Minister Hackett added that some of the current 437 forestry applications will require further assessment to determine their eligibility.
Minister Hackett explained that the new forestry programme excludes certain areas that were historically planted. Nevertheless, she believes that the programme aligns with the Shared National Vision of planting the right trees in the right places for the right reasons with proper management. The minister highlighted that some areas can no longer be planted to fulfill environmental obligations and avoid past mistakes. An analysis has been conducted on the afforestation files to identify applications that may be affected by these new restrictions. Approximately 3% of the applications are within 1.5 km of a curlew site and will no longer be eligible. Around 24% of the applications are unaffected, while the remaining applications require further assessment due to potential new restrictions.
Minister Hackett acknowledged that additional work will be necessary for affected applications, particularly those on peat soils, in high nature value areas, or breeding wader areas. To address this, virtual and in-person training sessions will be provided to all registered foresters across the country starting next week. During the Oireachtas committee meeting, the Minister of State for land use and biodiversity recognized concerns about delays in issuing licenses and its potential impact on interest in planting. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) has made significant efforts to address licensing issues by improving processes and allocating more resources. Minister Hackett assured applicants that the department is now capable of providing certainty regarding the timing of license issuance.
DAFM is currently developing a licensing plan that will cover the remainder of 2023 and provide indicative plans for 2024. Minister Hackett revealed that 377 opt-ins for 3412 hectares have been received to date, and licenses began to be issued last week. The government remains committed to supporting the forestry sector and ensuring the sustainable expansion of Ireland’s forests.