independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

Cuts avoided but ash future is uncertain

Prior to the Budget, I mentioned that there was a rumour circulating of a planned cut of 7pc in the forest premium.

The good news is that this measure was not included as part of the proposals.

Moreover, the general forestry budget remains pretty much intact.

Some €116m has been allocated for the investment programme in forestry which is at the same level as this year.

The Department states that this will allow afforestation grants and premium rates to be maintained at the same level and will support approximately 7,000ha of new planting.

While being a long way short of the targets envisaged in the 1996 strategic plan for the development of the forestry sector, we have to be grateful that the status quo remains.

Consequently, the rate of afforestation grants remains in the range €1,500-5,000/ha, depending on the land category, species and species mix.

The corresponding rates of premiums lie in the range €155-515/ha.

The not-so-good news is on the Ash Dieback disease front.

Earlier this month, the Department announced a "temporary suspension" of the grant aiding of new ash plantations under the Department's afforestation schemes until more information was gathered regarding surveillance results, the risk of the disease establishing in Ireland and the effects the disease might have on our existing ash plantations.

In short, anyone intending to plant ash during the current planting season will have to substitute another species.

All nurseries growing ash have had to submit samples for testing and the species is effectively frozen in the nurseries pending the outcome of the tests and the further surveillance to establish whether the disease has been contained.

With planting suspended, many nurserymen fear that they may yet have to burn their stock of ash, not because of its being diseased but simply due to lack of demand.

The last time we saw this on a large scale was the burning of 20m sitka spruce transplants following that drastic cut in the forestry budget in 2003.

Let's hope we don't see that scenario again with ash in the new year.

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