Ulster Unionist Party leader Robin Swann MLA has urged any farmer or landowner considering planting woodland in the 2019/20 season not to miss out on the latest phase of DAERA’s Forest Expansion Scheme.
Successful applicants to the scheme can receive up to 100% of eligible establishment costs, as well as an annual premia for a 10-year period.
The deadline for applications is this coming Monday - 30th September 2019 – at midday.
Robin Swann said: “Despite the obvious benefits of a healthy tree population and our relatively low population density, Northern Ireland is still the second least wooded area in Europe.
“In fact we have just 8% woodland cover compared to the EU average of 37%.
“It’s absurd in my mind that England, with its far larger population and more intensive use of land, has more woodland cover in percentage terms than we do.
“Scotland has more than twice the cover.
“For years I’ve believed we needed to be doing more to improve our woodland.
“Yet instead of doing more, it has felt to me that the entire issue has fallen away as a key priority.
“The 2007-2011 Stormont Programme for Government committed, and made resources available, to increase woodland cover by 1,650 hectares by March 2011. Not even half of that was achieved.
“I was then really shocked when the 2011-2015 Programme for Government was published and it contained no target, and in fact didn’t include a single reference to trees at all.
“The latest draft PfG before the Assembly collapsed again included no target.
“At a time when farmers are being knocked with poor prices, as well as facing huge uncertainty about the future, I am aware that some are now looking to woodland as a viable land-use option.
“Trees also have a solid commercial value so it could be a win win for both the farmer and the environment.”
Mr Swann concluded: “The latest phase of DAERA’s forest expansion programme comes with significant financial support, so I would urge any farmer thinking about planting woodland to at least go onto the DAERA website before Monday and consider it.”