FIE has written to the party leaders asking them to reconsider Irish forestry planting. The letter points out that more than €10,000 a hectare is being given to farmers on the basis of a forestry policy that has no economic future.
Current policy is still based on the 1996 ‘Planting For the Future’, which required planting rates to reach a ‘critical mass’ through a minimum planting rate of 20,000 hectares a year until 2035.
When this policy was reviewed by Peter Bacon in 2004, the minimum planting rate to make the current policy viable was revised downwards to 12,000 hectares a year. The funding available for forestry in 2011 will only be sufficient for 7,000 hectares of new planting - and planting has only reached half of even the lowered 12,000 hectare minimum in the 6 years since the Bacon Report was published.
This high level of planting is required even for a viable replacement of current forestry processing infrastructure, let alone to meet the now clearly unrealistic justification of added value through a pulp paper industry for Ireland. When this policy was reviewed by Peter Bacon in 2004, the minimum planting rate to make the current policy viable was revised downwards to 12,000 hectares a year.
The funding available for forestry in 2011 will only be sufficient for 7,000 hectares of new planting - and planting has never reached the 12,000 since the Bacon Report was published. Since the European Commission withdrew its 75% support because of poor environmental controls in 2007 the entire €120 million cost of this planting must be met through our taxes.
The financial stupidity of the current policy is shown by the fact that firewood in Ireland is currently selling for three times the price of timber suitable for construction - and this gap will continue to widen as fossil fuels increase in price and the supply of suitable timbers for fuel does not increase.
The fast growing soft woods that form the basis of the current planting have half the carbon content of hardwoods and make a poor fuel - and yet the State is paying between €2400 and €3700 per hectare for their planting. And when the crop is taken, the entire cost of replanting must by law be paid by the farmer.
Looking solely at the cost of fossil fuels used in the transport of Ireland's fast growing poor quality conifers, trees planted more that 30 miles for a board manufacture are barely viable now and will never justify the transport costs required in 40 years to the factories.
What is urgently needed is a policy that seeks to direct planting to local communities with a variety of species managed under low impact systems, including coppicing, that will allow for durable fence stakes, building timber and fuel, providing employment locally and addressing the growing issue of fuel poverty.
We would urge your party to examine its polices and commit itself to a forestry policy that addresses the urgent real needs of Ireland - not a planting programme that is based on discredited grandiose plans that continue to damage the environment without providing any return to the local communities.
Instead, Ireland must follow other European countries in planting native species that will generate jobs and vital sustainable energy while playing a critical role in rejuvenating local communities.
On economic grounds alone, we urge you to reconsider your support for current Irish forestry ‘policy'.
Friends of the Irish Environment
New restrictions on the Single Payments Scheme to farmers are contributing to the wildfires that have devastated thousands of hectares of Ireland’s countryside, according to 19 Irish environmental groups. In a letter today to the Minister for Agriculture, we point out that as a result of a recent ‘Health Check’ of the Single Payments Scheme made to farmers there is now an economic incentive for farmers to burn scrub land.
While hedgerows are protected, we point out that new rules require areas of scrub and even any part of hedgerows growing into fields to be removed or marked on the farmer’s application and excluded from payments. Only ‘utilisable areas’ are eligible for payment. The farmers have been warned that areal photography and satellite images will be used in the inspections required by the European Commission. We have asked the Minister to ensure the Forest Service and the Department of Agriculture Single Payments Unit work together to provide a scheme to promote the management of these scrub areas.
GRANTS ‘FORCING FARMERS TO BURN'
New restrictions on the Single Payments Scheme to farmers are contributing to the wildfires that have devastated thousands of hectares of Ireland's countryside, according to 19 Irish environmental groups.
In a letter today to the Minister for Agriculture, the groups have claimed that as a result of a recent ‘Health Check' of the Single Payments Scheme made to farmers, there is now an economic incentive for farmers to burn scrub land.
While hedgerows are protected, the NGOs point out that new rules require areas of scrub and even any part of hedgerows growing into fields to be removed or marked on the farmer's application and excluded from payments. Only ‘utilisable areas' are eligible for payment. The farmers have been warned that areal photography and satellite images will be used in the inspections required by the European Commission.
The environmentalists have asked the Minister to ensure the Forest Service and the Department of Agriculture Single Payments Unit work together to provide a scheme to promote the management of these scrub areas, transferring them from Single Payments to Forestry Premiums.
In their letter, the groups point out that ‘Scrub is a transitional woodland that is recognised as part of the national forestry inventory, occupying as much as 15% of some counties' forestry areas. It provides a vital sanctuary for wildlife, a carbon store, and a potential source of renewable fuel. These scrub woods are composed of broadleaf trees which do not burn and can in fact protect dwellings from these devastating conflagrations.'
Coillte Teo. estimates that so far this year 350 fires have destroyed more than 1600 acres of their forestry with the private sector losing a similar amount. The value of the loss to Coillte alone this year is estimated at between €2 and €13 million, depending on the age of the plantation.
Nail Hatch of BirdWatch Ireland says that ‘The impact on birds this year has been particularly severe, as thousands of nestlings will have perished in the fires or will face slow starvation as their main foraging areas have been destroyed. Populations of birds such as Stonechats, Wrens and Song Thrushes, already decimated by the cold weather in January, are amongst the worst affected by these clearances, and returning migrants such as Whitethroats, a specialist of this type of habitat, will also have been badly affected.'
Although burning has traditionally been used as a management tool to keep land open, it has adverse environmental impacts.
Tony Lowes of Friends of the Irish Environment, who are coordinating the NGOs lobbying, said that ‘Aside from the impact on birds and wildlife, the land is eroded by heavy rainfall on soils exposed by these fires. The burning contributes to carbon emissions and is illegal under the Air Pollution Act 1987 as it is ‘injurious to public health', has ‘a deleterious effect on flora or fauna', and may ‘damage property, or impair or interfere with amenities or with the environment'.
The NGOs say that the fact that grant aid is no longer dependent on the number of animals has resulted in more areas being ungrazed and beginning to revert to scrub. The IFA has cited the fact that the date until which they are allowed to burn was shorted by 6 weeks under the Wildlife Act 2000, claiming that this has contributed to a build up of wildfire fuel. ‘Even climate change may be contributing to the increase in fires as drier summers will encourage the spread of gorse on peaty soils', said Lowes.
Other NGOs supporting the call include An Taisce, Friends of the Earth, VOICE, the Irish Wildlife Trust, Bat Conservation Ireland, CELT, five forestry groups, and the energy group Grian.
The NGOs' letter concludes that ‘While there may be many reasons for this year's wildfires, the economic incentive for farmers to use burning as a land management tool must be ended - while still protecting farmer's incomes.'
Birdwatch Ireland: Niall Hatch 01 2819878.
Friends of the Irish Environment: Tony Lowes 087 2176316 / 027 74771
An Taisce; Bat Conservation Ireland; BirdWatch Ireland; CELT; Feasta; Forest Friends; Friends of the Earth; FIE; Grian; Hedge Layers Association of Ireland; Irish Natural Forestry Foundation; rish Seal Sanctuary; Irish Seed Savers; Irish Wildlife Trust; Just Forests; Native Woodland Trust; VOICE; Woodlands of Ireland; Sonairte
Letter to the Minister
Submission to the Forest Service
This Press Release
In the past two years, as the recession took hold, growers in the niche market recorded a rise in theft.
"It is a problem. We are all very worried this year in particular. They are a valuable crop and everyone has been on high alert since mid-November," Dermot Page, chairman of the Irish Christmas Tree Growers' group, said.
In a single night, raiders can cause major damage by cutting down dozens of trees and damaging the remaining stock.
In response, security measures have been installed and lights erected at plantations to warn off would-be raiders.
Forestry workers are also carrying out patrols and gardai have been alerted.
"It did happen last year," Mr Page said. "Before the last two years, we never saw it as a problem. Everyone is looking to make some money coming up to Christmas."
Demand is expected to match other years, with little fall-off in the market experienced last Christmas. Prices will vary from €25 to €45 depending on the height and quality of the tree.
The Christmas tree market is valued at more than €15m, according to Bord Bia. More than 600,000 trees are cut down, with more than 200,000 destined for export markets such as the UK, France and other locations throughout Europe.
Cutting began a few weeks ago on the trees for export, while the majority destined for the domestic market is harvested in the last week in November.
"Every tree needs a lot of manicuring and work to get it into the classic shape," Mr Page said. It takes about eight years for the tree to grow to between seven to eight foot in height.
Irish consumers tend to opt for a taller tree than in the UK or French markets.
"Everyone wants a bigger tree than they need and they end up having to hack the top off it which is a 'criminal' offence to us growers," Mr Page added.
Many forestries have stopped growing the non-shed Noble Fir, which is popular among Irish customers, as it is difficult to produce.
The non-shed Nordmann Fir is now the biggest seller.
- Louise Hogan
Monday November 29 2010
Re: Forestry Schemes Review
Farmers claim that Area Aid payments are dependent on keeping their lands accessible to livestock or the land will be excluded from support payment. They argue that they can not permit reversion of their holdings to scrub.
Scrub is ‘often found in inaccessible locations or on abandoned or marginal farmland' . Scrub can contain many native species, e.g. hawthorn, blackthorn, gorse, juniper, bramble, roses, willows, small birches, stunted hazel, holly and oak. Scrub frequently develops as a precursor for woodland and its support offers the potential to allow for woodland regeneration on hillsides, riparian sites and bog margins . No fertilisation or drainage is required. Tourism, biodiversity, soils and water all benefit by reversion to scrub.
To keep this land open farmers justify burning as a management tool required for economic reasons.
Forestry plantations suffered significant loses. Coillte estimates that around 1,500 acres of forestry were destroyed by gorse fires so far this year . In Kerry in the month of April there were more than 115 callouts for wildfires, placing fire fighters lives at risk and diverting fire fighting resources into remote areas where they are unavailable for domestic emergencies, etc. Climate change threatens to dry out Ireland's peatland to the point where furze will readily take root and gorse fires become a more serious menace.
Within a forestry grant-aided site up to 20% of the area can be given over to reversion to scrub, recognition of its contribution to forest cover. Support also exists through schemes in designated areas. But there is no direct scheme to support reversion to scrub as an alternative to the requirements of Area Aid.
Scrub would increase rather than decrease the national carbon store as opposed to burning and so would enhance the land's value as a carbon sink and store. Semi-native woodlands sustainably managed can provide posts, durable building/joinery materials, and fuel. A 4 hectare scrub woodland of YC 4 oak would provide 16 tons of hardwood firewood annually, contributing to a rural-based source of fuel, a valuable commodity under increasing pressure.
Grant aiding farmers to bring land under a Forestry Scrub/Transitional Woodland Scheme would increase the forest estate as scrub is included within the definition of forest cover used by Ireland in our National Forest Inventory. It comprises 4% of the total forested area with some counties holding 15% of their forested area in scrub.
A targeted Forestry Scrub/Transitional Woodland Scheme would also address the general issue of ‘desertification' where abandoned rural holdings would naturally revert to woodland but agricultural payments are only available subject to ‘maintenance'.
Such a scheme would be cost neutral as savings from Area Aid payments would be available for the Forestry Scrub/Transitional Woodland Scheme. There would be no establishment costs.
Friends of the Irish Environment
April 29, 2010