Environmental rules hindering forest planting, warn industry figures

Problem threatens €1.3bn Government plan, says forestry industry

Environmental restrictions are hindering new forest planting, threatening to derail a €1.3 billion Government plan, industry figures warn.

The Government this year announced a doubling of grants to farmers opting to plant trees on their land as part of a €1.3 billion programme meant to replace existing schemes and boost forest cover.

But lobby group Forest Industries Ireland (FII) says the programme’s own environmental restrictions rule out “huge amounts of land” that could otherwise be planted with trees.

The organisation says companies around the Republic report difficulties finding sites that qualify under the rules, while the problem is particularly serious in the west of Ireland.


According to FII, since August the new restrictions have forced one consultant to rule out 2,000 acres of farmland that could otherwise have been planted.

Another company is turning down six out of every 10 farmers seeking to grow commercial forest on their properties.

FII warns that the restrictions could limit forest planting here to less than 2,500 hectares a-year, far short of the Government’s 8,000-hectare annual target.

FII director Mark McAuley argued that the restrictions were stifling efforts to increase the amount of land under forest in the Republic.

“If we don’t tackle this issue of land availability, then the Government’s planting targets will be missed and, with them, Ireland’s climate action targets,” he said.

Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue and his colleague, Senator Pippa Hackett, announced the plan this year amid industry warnings that licensing and other problems were slowing growth.

The scheme provides aid for landowners who plant both commercial forest and native trees and offers bigger incentives than earlier programmes.

Conor Daly, managing director of The Forestry Company, which plants and manages commercial forests, maintains that the new rules are restrictive.

“This is leading to higher costs in making applications and more land now being unsuitable for planting,” he said.

John O’Reilly, chief executive of long-established forest manager Newgen Forestry, said the rules added several thousand euro in extra costs to every application for aid.

“Farmers will not enter a cost-prohibitive scheme,” he argued.

Mr McAuley said the Government should have set a new land-use strategy alongside the forestry programme.

“More Irish land should be going into forestry but we are ruling out land rather than ruling it in,” he added.

The Department of Agriculture did not comment.

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O’Halloran covers energy, construction, insolvency, and gaming and betting, among other areas