Light in new forestry programme

Comment & Opinion

BROADER BROADLEAF FOCUS Hazel are among the native species that form the bulk of the Government’s new forestry programme, announced in November 2022.

Frank Cawley

Mayo Greens applaud the focus of The Mayo News on issues around forestation highlighted by Ciara Moynihan in her article, ‘The dark march of Sitka and short sightedness’.
When you’re painting a house, you don’t pick the colour of the doors first and then pick the colour you want to paint the house. The article is focused on the Irish Strategic Forestry Fund which will plant roughly 3,500 hectares of new forests over the next five years. This equates to less than 1 percent of the current Government target of 450,000 hectares of new forests by 2050. The ISFF is run by Coillte and out of government control.
Mayo Greens would advocate the new forestry programme is a realistic well-thought out plan to improve Ireland’s 11.6 percent forest cover. It’s made up of 22 percent targets for woodland that can be used for commercial purposes to offset the dependency on concrete in the future. The primary goal of the forestry programme is to plant a wide variety of native trees, not just ash, and certainly not Sitka on land in Ireland.
Farmers are the biggest owners of land in the country. Farmers are the primary drivers and beneficiaries of the State’s €1.3 billion forestry programme. Farmers are not being encouraged to plant Sitka, which has the lowest financial incentives, and there are no payments at all if you plant above 70 percent Sitka per hectare.
The new forestry programme, announced in November 2022 (available on, is designed to financially help farmers to the greatest extent possible to engage with tree-planting as an alternative income stream to diversify away from existing levels of livestock farming. On RTÉ’s EcoEye programme last week Killian Varley, a farmer, talks about double income potential of Agra forestry grants. Killian has planted trees (protected while young) so sheep can’t dig up and the sheep can wander easily between the new trees planted.
Under the new forestry programme, farmers will receive 20 years of premium payments, compared to 15 years of premium payments for non-farmers. Furthermore, in addition to receiving 33 percent more premium payments, farmers who plant new forests will receive the Single Farm Payment on land converted to forestry, whereas other private landowners will not receive that payment.
The Irish Strategic Forestry Fund is just one of the ways in which Coillte will implement its overall strategic vision of delivering 100,000 hectares 22 percent of new forests by 2050. There are EU restrictions on State funding to public companies. That’s where the private investors come in. There will always be a need for commercial forests to offset dependency on concrete for buildings. The focus of the forestry programme is on the 78 percent native and broadleaf forestry that will promote bio-diversity, and ultimately sequester the unnecessary carbon dioxide.
Let’s discuss the primary focus of the forestry plan, and include other models like neighbourwoods, creating new forests on land already in public ownership, or the Nature Trust, a not-for-profit alliance between Coillte and Forestry Partners, first announced by Coillte in November 2020.

Frank Cawley is a member of the Mayo Green Party.