Woodland column: Workshops on woodland options are welcome

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I welcome the commitment by DAERA to host a series of workshops regarding the implementation of the new Countryside Management Scheme and in particular its woodland options, writes John Hetherington of Premer Woodlands

Under the new measures, grant aid will be available for new woodland creation of between 0.1ha and 5.0ha. It is my understanding that these developments will open the way for small scale tree planting under the new measures.

But both DAERA and Forest Service have a number of core questions to answer regarding the new Countryside Management Scheme, chief among them being the timescale for the new measure: are we talking 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, or 2022?

I can confirm that tree planting is now underway on parcels of land accepted under the terms of the 2016 Forest Expansion Scheme (FES). The current weather and the excellent ground conditions are allowing contractors to get on with the work at hand without hindrance. But issues still remain regarding the Forest Service’s interpretation of the FES regulations. And this is an issue that has been discussed a lot over recent weeks by relevant land owners and contractors.

The crux of the issue relates to the interpretation of woodland block size - why have 5.0 ha minimum when 3.0ha usually constitutes a minimum farm business area, what constitutes a block separation – the minimum 5.0ha application area must form a continuous block or adjoin existing woodland blocks, payment in full before grant claim and issues dealing with average peat depth? In my opinion, it really is a case of Forest Service over regulating the regulations, surely we all want more new woodland creation and get our abysmally low level of new woodland creation currently between 100-200 ha/yr increased significantly.

DAERA/Forest Service has yet to make up its mind up on whether or not landowners with older trees infected with Ash Dieback should continue to prevail of a service which allows them to have the trees removed by DAERA at no cost. In terms of the overall fight against the spread of the disease, these trees should be removed as quickly as possible. However, I sense DAERA/Forest Service has come to the conclusion that the disease will now be allowed to run its course. Under such circumstances, there would be no compulsion, or incentive for landowners to remove and/or destroy infected trees.

I also disagree strongly if this becomes policy and the continuing policy of not including ash in new woodland creation projects. This set of circumstances totally rules out the opportunity of identifying genotypes that are inherently resistant to the disease.