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Unlicensed small-scale planting given green light

Scheme to allow up to one hectare of native trees without a forestry permit

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The new scheme will cut out the problematic forestry licence application process for small-scale planting. Photo: Roger Jones

The new scheme will cut out the problematic forestry licence application process for small-scale planting. Photo: Roger Jones

The new scheme will cut out the problematic forestry licence application process for small-scale planting. Photo: Roger Jones

A new scheme is set to allow farmers to plant up to one hectare (2.47ac) of native trees without the need for a forestry licence.

Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue has secured permission from the Agriculture Committee to progress with plans to amend the Forestry Act 2014 so small-scale planting can be legally facilitated on farms nationwide.

Currently, if a farmer wants to plant more than 0.1ha, they must apply for a forestry licence — a process that could take up to three years to complete due to systemic administrative and backlog problems at the Department.

While it will be some months yet before the mooted scheme — which will be separate from CAP — is established, the minister said the development is “a positive step” for meeting the country’s annual planting target of 8,000ha, its climate and biodiversity objectives, and for farm incomes.

“The amendment is to facilitate the promotion of small-scale planting of native tree species in a manner where it won’t be a requirement to get a licence for an area above 0.1ha, but not greater than one hectare,” Minister McConalogue said.

“And also, for an area that is not less than 0.1ha, but not greater than 20 metres in width. The trees concerned must be native tree species, of which not more than 25pc will be Scots pine.

“With the legal basis, we will have the capacity to introduce a scheme incentivising farmers to do small-scale plantations and riparian zones — for example, alongside waterways — which would have an environmental benefit in terms of biodiversity and in terms of improving water quality.

“This important amendment would make it, administratively, as smooth as possible without the necessity for a full-blown licence application.

“It is a really positive, progressive measure and agreement will provide us with the legal basis to design a scheme and to bring it in as promptly as we can.

“I don’t see how anyone in the sector could object to this. It is a sensible, logical measure about making it easier to plant forests, within reason, at a small scale.”

While the committee unanimously supported the proposed amendment, Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice also described it as “a get-out” for the Department as the minister confirmed new hectares planted under the scheme will be counted within the country’s annual 8,000ha commercial forestry target.

“To call a spade a spade, you’re bringing in a way forward of ticking a box that Ireland will reach its target and that you’ll be able to do a press release to say, ‘we’ve reached the 7,000 or 8,000ha target’,” Mr Fitzmaurice said. “But to be frank about it, we won’t have done it the way we should have.

“Every deputy on this committee is blue in the face telling you that your department is dysfunctional, and that, since 2016, it has never reached its [planting] target.

“If you keep persisting with the same piano players, you’re going to keep getting the same tune. The bottom line is we support this bill... but the reality is, only 45 forestry licences were issued last month, and 36 before that. It’s a disgrace what has happened to the forestry sector in this country.”

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