‘New Forest Expansion Scheme is unique’

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In addition to forestry payments, current EU rules allow land eligible for Single Payment (SP), which is then planted with trees under the new Forest Expansion Scheme, to remain eligible for the SP, according to Forest Service’s Ben Searle.

“This is on the basis that the land remains under the Forest Expansion Scheme for its 20 year period of commitment,” Mr Searle explained.

“The Forest Expansion Scheme is one of three measures built into the new forestry programme, which was announced by Farm Minster Michelle O’Neill this week.

“A total funding package of £17.4m has been made available under the aegis of the new rural development plan.

“Our target is to create 1,800ha of new woodland, essentially within the private sector, over the next five years.

“Approximately £9m of new funding will be made available for new woodland planting under the rural development programme for the period 2014 to 2020.

“And Forest Service is committed to ensuring that the associated planting targets are secured.”

Mr Searle confirmed that the new forestry measures have been drawn up to meet the specific requirements of land owners – and the public at large in Northern Ireland.

He continued: “Courtesy of the Expansion Scheme, landowners can draw 
down both the direct grant that is available under this measure and continue to draw down the Single Payment on eligible land that is planted out.

“Annual premia payments will be available for 10 years on agricultural land and the EU rules, which allow new woodland to remain eligible for the Basic Payment, should make the new Expansion Scheme attractive to a large swathe of landowners here in Northern Ireland.”

Mr Searle admitted that grant awards for the Expansion Scheme will be determined within a form of competitive tendering process.

“It’s all about delivering schemes that provide best value for money from a global warming reduction, conservation and public recreational perspective,” he said.

“Afforested land represents a tremendous Carbon store, both in terms of what’s locked up in the trees plus the associated leaf litter and soil. This figure could be as high as 250t/ha,” he said.

“It goes without saying that forestry and tree planting are strongly associated with the highest standards of conservation.

“But making available public access to a new woodland will also be a factor in deeming its value for money for the new grant scheme. The resilience of the proposed plantation will also be considered, when it comes to determining eligibility for the new grant scheme.”

Mr Searle explained that a pro forma and accompanying Excel spread sheet is now available on the Forest Service web site to help landowners make their submissions for the new schemes.

“A panel made up of representatives from Forest Service and other government departments will assess each application received. But, fundamentally, it’s all about encouraging new tree planting,” he said.

“Forest Service will host a series of workshops to profile the new forestry schemes. These will be held at venues across Northern Ireland over the coming weeks.”

O’Neill launches Forestry Grants Scheme - see page 17