DAERA is urged to ‘double down’ on NI tree planting

A leading forester has called on the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) to double down on its commitment of securing a tree cover of 12% across Northern Ireland’s total land area by 2050.

Premier Woodlands’ managing director John Hetherington made these comments following confirmation that the Republic of Ireland has already reached this target.

He added:“Northern Ireland’s woodland and forest cover is currently in the region of 8%. So the potential to grow more trees here is immense.”

The Forest Expansion Scheme (FES) is the main support driver for tree planting on local farms.

Premier Woodlands' managing director John Hetherington

“Both DAERA and Forest Service must highlight the benefits of the measure to all landowners,” said Hetherington.

Meanwhile, Dublin’s Minister of State with responsibility for forestry, Senator Pippa Hackett, has announced the publication of her department’s annual forest statistics report for 2022.

Launching ‘Ireland Forest Statistics 2022’, the minister commented:“Overall the national forest estate is still expanding and has now reached 11.6% of the total land area or 808,848 hectares.

“This expansion in the total forest area is as a result of direct afforestation and also the natural expansion of semi-natural forests. For the first time in the history of the state, the area of privately owned forests exceeds the area of publicly owned forests.”

Noting the decreasing trend in the area being afforested annually, the Minister said: “This is something that needs to be addressed and the work of Project Woodland will be key in establishing a way forward through the development of a new forest strategy and forestry programme.

“Incentivising the creation of new forests through our new forestry programme, which will come into place in January 2023, will be essential to meeting not only our economic objectives but also our climate change targets and our aims in terms of enhancing biodiversity.”

The minister continued:“Although afforestation was low last year, I am pleased that the proportion of broadleaves being afforested increased from 34% in 2020 to 41% in 2021.

“A similar increase occurred in the Native Woodland Establishment scheme operated by my department, from 18.9% in 2020 to 29.6% in 2021.”

Reflecting on the content, on the report the Minister said: “Earlier this year, my department completed field data collection on the fourth cycle of the National Forest Inventory.

“A wide variety of information was collected on Ireland’s forests estate including information on forest area and species composition, growing stock, biodiversity, forest health and carbon content.

“This latest inventory cycle will provide important information on aspects such as forest area change, volume increment and harvesting.”

Further and more detailed results from the fourth cycle of the National Forest Inventory will be released later in the year, when the data analysis is completed.

Ireland’s national forest estate is still expanding and has now reached 11.6% of the total land area, with a wide variety of forest types present.

The Republic’s total forest area has increased from 770,020 hectares (ha) in 2017 to 808,848 ha at present. The increase in area is a result of afforestation and natural expansion of semi-natural forests.

Nationally, conifer species are the dominant species present, representing 69% of forest area while broadleaved species accounted for 31%.

The proportion of broadleaves in new forests created during 2021 is 41%, an increase of 7% over 2020. A similar increase occurred in the Native Woodland Establishment scheme operated by the department, from 18.9% in 2020 to 29.6% in 2021.

More than half (50.9%) of forests are in private ownership, with the remainder in public ownership. Farmers have accounted for 81% of private lands afforested between 1980 and 2021.