A leading forester is seeking clarification as to whether new tree planting grants will be made available to the private woodland sector by DARD/Forest Service over the coming months.
“This is a critically important matter as the issue concerning the long term grant funding of forestry development has been brought to a halt, due to the delays associated with the rolling out of the new rural development programme,” said Premier Woodlands’ managing director John Hetherington.
“Minister O’Neill had indicated some weeks ago that a new forestry measure would be announced for the 2015/16 planting season. But, as yet, the required details have not been confirmed.
“The reality is that the new tree planting season is almost upon us. Those farmers and landowners wishing to consider forestry and woodland development-related projects over the coming 12 months need to factor in now what support measures will be available for 2015/16.”
Hetherington added that the rate of forestry development within the private sector has slowed down dramatically over recent years.
“The previous grant schemes have, to all intents and purposes, been done away with and nothing yet put in their place. This flies in the face of the Farm Minister’s commitment to encourage enhanced levels of tree planting.
“The reality is that we enjoy the almost perfect climate in which to grow trees, yet Northern Ireland remains the least forested region of Europe.”
In response to these claims, DARD has confirmed that Minister O’Neill had recently responded to a written question from Leslie Cree MLA, regarding plans to increase the rate of woodland planting.
In her reply the minister pointed out that the draft Rural Development Programme 2014-2020 included support for woodland planting through a Forestry Expansion Scheme, to encourage large scale woodland planting, and a Forest Protection Scheme to support owners restore their woodland following tree disease findings.
The Minister added that she expected these schemes to open in Autumn 2015 in readiness for the 2015/16 tree planting season. Opening of the forestry schemes will be subject to approval by the European Commission of the draft Rural Development Programme and the Department of Finance and Personnel approval of the relevant business case.