Make it pay to plant na­tive woodlands

Irish Independent - Farming - - FORESTRY - CLARE FOX

MORE cash in­cen­tives are needed to make plant­ing na­tive woodlands more at­trac­tive to landown­ers, ac­cord­ing to Green­belt CEO John O’Reilly.

Speak­ing at the re­cent Woodlands of Ire­land con­fer­ence in Wicklow, Mr O’Reilly said that a “fi­nan­cial tipping-point” was needed to per­suade farm­ers to plant na­tive trees such as oak, birch, ash and yew, so that the na­tion can meet its plant­ing tar­gets.

He ex­plained that the value of agri­cul­tural land given over to na­tive woodlands is re­duced to about €800 per acre — com­pared to €4,000 per acre for conifer plan­ta­tions.

“There’s a nice prod­uct there, it’s grant-aided and there’s a pre­mium, but in the farmer’s mind it lacks com­mer­cial­ity,” he said. “It can be ar­gued that it en­hances the ecol­ogy but this doesn’t trans­late in to cap­i­tal for farm­ers.

“Na­tive woodlands are seen as less at­trac­tive be­cause they de­value the land more than conifers.

“It needs to be made more owner-friendly; we need a fi­nan­cial tipping-point that makes it at­trac­tive to landown­ers.”

Green­belt re­cently teamed up with Mi­crosoft to of­fer farm­ers a €1,000 up-front pay­ment on top of their ad­di­tional grant aid and pre­mi­ums to en­cour­age more landown­ers to plant na­tive woodlands.

He said that while the av­er­age size of a plan­ta­tion in 2015 was 5.4 hectares, 3.87 in 2016 and 4.35 in 2017, the av­er­age size of plan­ta­tions in the Green­belt and Mi­crosoft ini­tia­tive was 12ha.

He said that this jump in plant­ing is be­cause of the upfront pay­ment of­fered.

“Ini­tia­tives like these are the ad­di­tional quan­tum that landown­ers need to re­ceive to re­al­is­ti­cally con­sider na­tive wood­land es­tab­lish­ment as a vi­able land use op­tion,” he said.

Del­e­gates at the two-day con­fer­ence vis­ited Kather­ine Stafford’s 9ha oak plan­ta­tion in the Glen­cree Val­ley, Co Wicklow.

Kather­ine said that since na­tive woodlands don’t of­fer a cash crop at the end, more needs to be done to en­cour­age farm­ers to plant such species.

“I grew up in Con­necti­cut where there was lots of na­tive wood­land. I was aware of the con­nec­tion be­tween wa­ter and woodlands, streams and rivers and wa­ter qual­ity,” she said.

At the con­fer­ence, Min­is­ter of State for Forestry An­drew Doyle launched the Woodlands For Wa­ter ini­tia­tive.

This is part of the De­part­ment’s re­sponse to the River Basin Man­age­ment Plan for Ire­land 2018-21, us­ing woodlands and forests to proac­tively con­trib­ute to im­prov­ing Ir­ish wa­ters.

Bio­di­ver­sity

He said that na­tive woodlands need to be pre­served, for a num­ber of rea­sons.

“As na­tive woodlands are an im­por­tant part of Ire­land’s nat­u­ral her­itage, his­tory and cul­ture, and are unique in terms of their bio­di­ver­sity, it is ap­pro­pri­ate that we fo­cus to­day on that el­e­ment of Ir­ish forestry,” he said.

“We must also bear in mind the other im­por­tant ecosys­tem ser­vices pro­vided by our na­tive woodlands, such as wa­ter and soil pro­tec­tion, wider habi­tat link­age and car­bon se­ques­tra­tion.

“I am not un­der­es­ti­mat­ing their eco­nomic po­ten­tial as a source of qual­ity hard­wood, re­new­able en­ergy and other wood and non-wood prod­ucts, and the so­cial and recre­ational ben­e­fits we de­rive from them.”

DE­CLAN LIT­TLE

Old oak wood­land in Charleville, Co Of­faly

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