A financial 'tipping point' is needed to persuade farmers to plant native trees - Greenbelt
More cash incentives are needed to make planting native woodlands more attractive to landowners, according to Greenbelt CEO John O'Reilly.
Speaking at the recent Woodlands of Ireland conference in Wicklow, Mr O'Reilly said that a "financial tipping-point" was needed to persuade farmers to plant native trees such as oak, birch, ash and yew, so that the nation can meet its planting targets.
He explained that the value of agricultural land given over to native woodlands is reduced to about €800 per acre - compared to €4,000 per acre for conifer plantations.
"There's a nice product there, it's grant-aided and there's a premium, but in the farmer's mind it lacks commerciality," he said. "It can be argued that it enhances the ecology but this doesn't translate in to capital for farmers.
"Native woodlands are seen as less attractive because they devalue the land more than conifers.
"It needs to be made more owner-friendly; we need a financial tipping-point that makes it attractive to landowners."
Greenbelt recently teamed up with Microsoft to offer farmers a €1,000 up-front payment on top of their additional grant aid and premiums to encourage more landowners to plant native woodlands.
He said that while the average size of a plantation in 2015 was 5.4 hectares, 3.87 in 2016 and 4.35 in 2017, the average size of plantations in the Greenbelt and Microsoft initiative was 12ha.
He said that this jump in planting is because of the up-front payment offered.
"Initiatives like these are the additional quantum that landowners need to receive to realistically consider native woodland establishment as a viable land use option," he said.
Delegates at the two-day conference visited Katherine Stafford's 9ha oak plantation in the Glencree Valley, Co Wicklow.
Katherine said that since native woodlands don't offer a cash crop at the end, more needs to be done to encourage farmers to plant such species.
"I grew up in Connecticut where there was lots of native woodland. I was aware of the connection between water and woodlands, streams and rivers and water quality," she said.
At the conference, Minister of State for Forestry Andrew Doyle launched the Woodlands For Water initiative.
This is part of the Department's response to the River Basin Management Plan for Ireland 2018-21, using woodlands and forests to proactively contribute to improving Irish waters.
He said that native woodlands need to be preserved, for a number of reasons.
"As native woodlands are an important part of Ireland's natural heritage, history and culture, and are unique in terms of their biodiversity, it is appropriate that we focus today on that element of Irish forestry," he said.
"We must also bear in mind the other important ecosystem services provided by our native woodlands, such as water and soil protection, wider habitat linkage and carbon sequestration.
"I am not underestimating their economic potential as a source of quality hardwood, renewable energy and other wood and non-wood products, and the social and recreational benefits we derive from them."
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