Greenery in Decline: 2023 Marks Lowest Tree Planting Rate in Nearly 80 Years

"Concerns raised as Ireland sees lowest forestry planting levels in decades"

Independent TD Michael Lowry raised concerns in the Dáil about the significant decrease in land planted for forestry in 2023, marking the lowest levels since 1946. Only 1,651 hectares were planted last year, a stark contrast to the 2,273 hectares in 2022 and 2,016 hectares in 2021. Additionally, the number of afforestation licenses issued plummeted to just 88 in 2023 from over 700 in the previous year.

Lowry emphasized the gravity of the situation, stating, “The amount of land planted for forestry in 2023 was 1,650 hectares, corresponding to the lowest in the history of the state. The last time we saw such low levels was back in 1946.” He highlighted that farmers are losing confidence in the forestry sector due to inadequate compensation for issues like ash dieback.

In response to Lowry’s concerns, Tánaiste Micheál Martin outlined the government’s plans to address the decline in forestry planting. He announced a new €1.3 billion forestry program aimed at revitalizing the industry. Martin assured that the program represents a significant departure from previous years when the sector faced challenges.

Under the new program, farmers can expect improved incentives, with forestry premiums set to increase by 46% to 66%. Farmers will also receive premium payments for 20 years, compared to 15 years for non-farmers. For instance, a farmer planting 1 hectare of native broadleaf trees could receive €1,103 annually for 20 years tax-free, amounting to approximately €22,000 for the 1-hectare planting.

Furthermore, the Tánaiste highlighted that farmers can now plant a hectare of native woodland without the need for a license, simplifying the process. While acknowledging the positive developments in the forestry sector, he emphasized that effective implementation will be crucial for success.

Lowry also raised concerns about the impact of the Residential Zoned Land Tax (RZLT) on farmers, describing it as unfair. He pointed out that the tax places a burden on farmers with land on the outskirts of towns and villages, which may never be used for housing projects. Many affected farmers in Tipperary and north Kilkenny have sought exemptions or dezoning, but their requests have largely been denied, leading to what Lowry described as an unjust and unaffordable tax.

In response, the Tánaiste highlighted ongoing efforts by the government to address the issue through remapping. He assured that measures were being taken to prevent unfair taxation of farmers who are actively engaged in production and wish to continue farming.

Matt Lyons

Matt Lyons

Matt Lyons is the founder of Forestry & Carbon. Matt has over 25 years as a forestry consultant and is invoilved in numerous carbon credit offset projects.

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