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.