Background to afforestation
Destruction of Ireland‘s native forests over many centuries left the country with approximately only 1.5% of the land area under forests by the turn of the 20th century. Consequently afforestation (planting of new forests) has been a key objective of Irish forest policy since the foundation of the State. The national afforestation programme began in the early 1920s and has continued to this day with periodic annual fluctuations in the area planted, depending on various factors such as land availability, economic circumstances, competing land uses, grant aid etc.
Until the 1980s most of the afforestation was carried out by the State under various government departments. An on-going programme of land acquisition and forest establishment occurred during this period resulting in the 445,000ha managed by Coillte today. Private planting, however, was limited (a total of 10,000ha) despite the fact that a State grant scheme existed since the 1930s aimed at encouraging land owners to plant forests.
The first substantial move to increase the level of afforestation undertaken by private landowners occurred in 1981, following the introduction of a special grant scheme under the forestry element of the EEC Western Package. The Western Package Scheme was aimed at stimulating agricultural development and improving farm incomes in 13 western counties. It offered grants for the planting of forests on “lands marginal for agriculture but suitable for forestry”. While the level of uptake was initially slow (1,200 ha in the first 5 years) this increased dramatically to 2,280 ha planted in 1986. This increase in private afforestation coincided with a decrease in the State afforestation programme.
The State, with the continued financial assistance of the European Union, introduced further forestry grant schemes over the succeeding years, on a nationwide basis, and the level of afforestation by private landowners increased significantly, peaking in 1995, when 17,353 hectares were planted. Combined with 6,367 hectares planted by Coillte Teoranta in that year, 1995 saw the highest level of afforestation (23,710 hectares) ever achieved in the country in a single year.
Today, afforestation is mostly carried out by private landowners. Coillte is no longer acquiring land for afforestation but its forest establishment activities are mostly concerned with restocking clearfelled areas on its own estate. It does, however, enter into partnerships with private owners in establishing and managing new plantations but the ownership of the forest land remains with the landowner.
Successive governments have been committed to the continued development of Ireland’s forests through sustained investment in afforestation and forest management over the years. This has resulted in 10% of the land area being under forests which is set to increase in the future with the national forestry strategy setting an aspirational target of 17% by 2030.Today this commitment continues by providing grants and annual compensation payments (premiums) to landowners to plant forests, whether for commercial timber production or for amenity and conservation purposes.
The Forest Service, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is responsible for the administration of the forestry grant schemes. Under the Forestry Programme 2007-13 the following grant schemes are available:
- Afforestation Scheme– predominantly aimed at, but not confined to, those wishing to plant forests to produce commercial timber. The grant is available to any landowner who afforests “land which has been used for agricultural purposes in recent years” and eligible areas can be as little as 0.1 hectare (for broadleaf species) and 0.25 hectares (for conifer species).
- Forest Environment Protection Scheme (FEPS) – aims to encourage farmers participating in the Rural Environment Protection Scheme (REPS) to establish high nature value woodland in their farms.
- Native Woodland Scheme– provides financial support for landowners to establish new native woodlands on greenfield sites.
- Woodland Improvement Scheme, promoting the thinning and tending of established forests in order to maximise economic potential;
Further information on the schemes and their operation is available from: Grant and Premium Schemes and Scheme Circulars and from the Forest Service, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Johnstown Castle Estate, Co. Wexford.
Information on the grant schemes is also available from the:
Teagasc website – which gives comprehensive information on the grant schemes for private landowners:
Irish Timber Growers Association – An article in the Forestry Yearbook summaries the schemes and the steps to be taken when applying for grants.