A SCHEME which incentivises farmers rather than multinational funds to plant new forests is urgently needed, according to IFA forestry chairman Pat Collins.
Mr Collins was reacting to last week’s move by Sinn Féin agriculture spokesman Martin Kenny to make planning approval compulsory for plantations of five hectares or over. Currently plantations of up to 50 hectares do not require planning permission.
Deputy Kenny, who represents Sligo-Leitrim, told the Farming Independent that bringing forestry within the remit of the planning laws will regularise the industry more effectively and speed up the reduction of our agricultural carbon emissions.
Deputy Kenny’s bill also deals with the visual impact of forests.
He said 18pc of the non-bog or mountain land in Leitrim has been turned over to forestry.
“The visual impact is certainly something I see in my part of the world, where we have large areas of forestry, mainly Sitka spruce and pine forests, which grow and block out people’s light and in many places break the horizon,” said Mr Kenny.
“Many people built or bought houses with a beautiful view of a lake or mountains and within a couple of years forests grew in front of them and they have no right to object and no right to say anything to anyone about it.”
“We need to devise a new model for our forestry programme and bring it within the remit of the planning system.”
Mr Collins said a carbon-free countryside would create an ideal marketing opportunity for Irish beef and dairy enterprises to brand their products as environmentally neutral.
“Places in the northwest like Leitrim, Roscommon and west Cavan are now virtually carbon-free, and can you imagine the advantage farmers in these areas would have if they sold their farm produce with a carbon-free logo?” he said.
Mr Collins also stressed that any new forestry programme should be aimed at spreading afforestation nationwide.
“Farmers are the natural custodians of the countryside and would approach any new initiative on forestry in that fashion, whereas vulture funds simply gather up the premiums for forestry and usually move the money elsewhere,” he explained.