COMMENT: Carbon trading is the real driver for local landowners

Well known journalist Richard Halleron from Farming Life is pictured before the Northern Bank Pre-Winter Fair dinner in Belfast this week with Hilary Dawson and John Henning from Northern Bank  .PICTURE STEVEN MCAULEY/KEVIN MCAULEY PHOTOGRAPHY MULTIMEDIA
Well known journalist Richard Halleron from Farming Life is pictured before the Northern Bank Pre-Winter Fair dinner in Belfast this week with Hilary Dawson and John Henning from Northern Bank .PICTURE STEVEN MCAULEY/KEVIN MCAULEY PHOTOGRAPHY MULTIMEDIA

Standing timber prices are starting to take off around the world. And it’s not just their immediate commodity values that is ‘fuelling’ this trend.

In reality, the concept of Carbon Trading is the real driver behind what could be a very attractive proposition for local landowners. And this is a concept which the EU and other trading blocks around the world will further endorse over the coming years.

The principle is a simple one: international businesses who wish to improve their environmental credentials will purchase carbon credits from other companies involved in carbon sequestration activities. The end result should be a reduction in the levels of atmospheric CO2. Pundits are already claiming that Carbon Trading could become a business worth £billions over the next 20 years or so.

All of this will come as good news to those involved in forestry as trees can be regarded as a Carbon sump with the potential to remove significant tonnages of CO2 from the atmosphere for well over a hundred years.

Locally, the past year has seen the Assembly and the Agriculture Committee at Stormont taking a renewed interest in forestry, courtesy of the various debates and discussions on the recently passed Forestry Bill for Northern Ireland. For years, those involved with the forestry and woodland sectors have been telling farmers that tree planting is a viable land use alternative. And it is!

It is worthy of note that forestry represents the only land use option through which farmers can plant up to 50% of their holding in trees, receive all of the available woodland grants and ‘stack’ their existing Single Farm Entitlements across that part of their farm which remains unplanted.

On this basis alone one would have thought that private sector forestry development should be a growth area within the local economy. However, the reality is that it is not. In fact, current tree planting levels are hardly on a par with those recorded ten years ago.

There are significant areas of land in Northern Ireland that could be put to best economic use on the back of creative woodland development initiatives. The reality is that we enjoy a uniquely advantageous climate in which to grow trees. And the economics of woodland are not just centred on the final value of the trees when they are eventually felled.

Tree planting helps create new habitats, which helps to enrich the environment and the conservation value of the landscape. This, in turn, can help to create new visitor attractions with an emphasis on education and recreation. It’s time we started converting some of this undoubted potential into reality!