The clock is ticking for the future of tree planting support in Northern Ireland

​The 2022/23 tree planting season continues apace with Premier Woodlands’ managing director John Hetherington confirming the benefits of the recent dry weather in this regard.

“But it’s not all plain sailing,” he added. “Sourcing trees of the right quality remains an issue. The fact is that we don’t have a commercial forest tree nursery facility in Northern Ireland.

“There is a tremendous demand for young trees in the rest of the UK and the Republic of Ireland at the present time.

“This reflects the uplift in planting projects taking place in these regions at the present time.

Premier Woodlands' managing director John Hetherington
Premier Woodlands' managing director John Hetherington
Premier Woodlands' managing director John Hetherington

“As a consequence, Northern Ireland is having to play second fiddle when it comes to sourcing the trees that are required locally.”

Tree planting can continue through until late May with the use of refrigerated tree stocks.

All of the projects currently underway in Northern Ireland are taking place under the aegis of two support measures: The Forestry Expansion Scheme (FES) and the Small Woodland Grant Scheme (SWGS).

John Hetherington again: “We know there will be one last round of submissions for FES. But this is with the caveat that all the relevant paperwork must be approved by the end of December this year.

“The reality of course is that there will most likely be a major FES under spend. This is because the actual planting levels secured within the scheme are well below the projected budget figure agreed for new woodland creation within the Rural Development Plan when it was originally rolled out.

“And irrespective of what happens by way of the last round of applications, this deficit will most likely not be made up.

“As a consequence, we are looking at the certain eventuality of monies granted by the EU, courtesy of the last Rural Development Programme, being returned to Brussels.”

He continued: “Currently there are no proposals yet in the public domain from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Forest Service regarding the format of future support measures for the private woodland sector.

“This is deeply concerning, given that both FES and SWGS will close within the next nine months.”

There is unanimity across the farming and environmental sectors that enhanced tree planting rates will be a core response to the challenge of climate change in Northern Ireland.

“So the need to have a clear and well defined future forestry support policy is a matter of utmost priority for Forest Service.”

John concluded: “The need to have a vibrant private forestry and woodland sector in Northern Ireland is obvious.

“And this reality must be reflected in the long term support measures made available to farmers and land owners.

“I am also deeply concerned about the growing disparity in the levels of forestry support available in the Republic of Ireland relative to here.

“Yet, again, Northern Ireland has been left idling in the slow lane.”

For further information, contact Premier Woodlands on (028) 7963 4236.

Forestry funds open to boost biodiversity and futureproof forests against pests, diseases and climate change

Applications for the Forestry Commission delivered Woods into Management Forestry Innovation Funds and the Tree Production Innovation Fund have reopened in Great Britain to further support expansion and management of our nation’s trees and forests and futureproof them against stresses like pests, disease and climate change.

This year, almost £4 million will be allocated to successful applicants across both funds.