Forestry Expansion Scheme not yet opened

Premier Woodlands' managing director John HetheringtonPremier Woodlands' managing director John Hetherington
Premier Woodlands' managing director John Hetherington | Freelance
Despite previous indications from Forest Service that May would be the month, we still await the opening of the Forestry Expansion Scheme (FES) for applications in 2020.

One would hope that the delay is due to ‘minor’ administration-related hiccups and that the scheme will get the green light before the end of this month.

If such turns out to be the case, then the close of application date may well be set for August 31st. Under such circumstances, Forest Service should still be able to meet its previous commitment to have all FES planting grant contracts out with landowners by December 31st.

This is the last year of the present FES scheme. It was established under the aegis of the current Rural Development Programme, which runs its course over the coming months. For whatever reason, Forest Service has never managed to reach the spending targets set for FES. It goes without saying that every effort should be made to encourage the largest possible response from farmers and landowners to the woodland expansion programme in 2020.

The reality remains that 90% of the land in Northern Ireland is either owned by farmers or private individuals. And if nothing is doing to entice these groupings to seriously consider tree planting, there is no hope of us meeting our afforestation targets in this part of the world.

We are already falling well behind the afforestation targets set by previous farm ministers with the current commitment to new planting hardly keeping pace with the levels of forest removal.

Looking ahead, there is now an onus on Forest Service to put in place a sustainable forestry development programme that must be introduced in 2021. It is crucially important that the Stormont Executive delivers on the absolute need for seemless continuity, where support for forestry is concerned.

To make this happen will require an adequate funding commitment on the part of the Executive over the coming months. There is also an onus on Forest Service to liaise closely with all relevant stakeholders, where this matter is concerned, to improve the chances of meeting afforestation targets.

Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots has already indicated that he wants to see the planting of 18 million trees across Northern Ireland over the next decade. It is my understanding that most of this planting is to take place on publically-owned land. This commitment must not be allowed to over shadow a commitment that must be made to develop a vibrant and sustainable indigenous private forestry sector.

In any event, Minister Poots may have to turn to the private sector for support, if he wants to see his aforementioned forestry target met. It appears that a lot of the land owned by public agencies earmarked for new woodland creation may not actually be suitable for tree planting purposes.

Meanwhile the scourge of Ash Die Back disease continues to gain momentum province-wide. It is disappointing to note that the Forest Service will not grant aid the felling of affected trees that are over 10m in height. But even in cases where support is available, the grant does not cover all the related felling costs.

Provision is made for a replanting grant in forests and woodlands affected by Ash Die Back. Given current circumstances, forestry owners impacted by the disease haven’t much choice but to get on with the felling of affected trees and re-plant accordingly. Taking these steps will ensure farm businesses remain fully eligible for the forestry annual payments they currently receive.

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

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