Thursday 29 September 2016

New system will assess suitability of marginal land for plantations

Published 03/02/2016 | 02:30

The Department is introducing a new system to identify and characterise land. Photo: Teagasc.
The Department is introducing a new system to identify and characterise land. Photo: Teagasc.

The suitability of land for forestry is a big issue at the Teagasc clinics, particularly for those assessing the potential of marginal land for planting.

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Such land is often associated with 'poorer' soils and includes areas that have not been cultivated or brought under intensive commercial agricultural use. These lands are generally used for extensive grazing and have low levels of existing agricultural productivity.

This type of land may be classified as 'Unenclosed/Unimproved land' and is currently not eligible for forestry grant aid.

This situation may have resulted in the exclusion of productive land from the afforestation programme.

As a result, afforestation may not have been considered as an option by some landowners.

However, the Council for Forest Research and Development (COFORD) recently published the report Land Availability for Afforestation, - Exploring opportunities for expanding Ireland's forest resource.

The report was compiled by the COFORD Land Availability Working Group and chaired by Nuala Ni Fhlatharta, head of Teagasc's Forestry Development Department. The report suggests a very different way of identifying land suitability for forestry.

Based on the recommendations made in this report, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is currently in the process of putting the final touches to a new Site Classification for Irish Forestry system or SCIF.

It identifies and characterises land using indicators of productivity potential such as soil type, nutrient status and/or plant community analysis.

This new system should result in a more reliable classification of land, based on its productivity potential and its ability to support forest growth.

It will also examine whether land is suitable for woodland creation and eligible for grant aid taking into account ecological and other constraints.

It is clear from this report that there is significant potential for sustainable afforestation in Ireland.

Of course, on much of this land farming will continue to be the owners' preferred land use choice.

However, landowners should consider how profitable and sustainable their farming enterprises are and how farm forestry can significantly contribute to improving the farm's profitability and sustainability while at the same time creating a national much-needed natural resource that will contribute to our economy.

I hope to return to this topic in more detail once the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has finalised the new Site Classification for Irish Forestry system.

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