Department of Agriculture should be supporting farms to develop forestry, not punishing them

The planned partnership between Coillte and Gresham House, a UK-based investment firm, highlights fundamental flaws in the Government’s approach to forestry, according to Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns.

Deputy Cairns, who is the party’s spokesperson on Agriculture, said:

“It has come to light that €25 million of public money is being used to help the Irish Strategic Forestry Fund buy more than 12,000ha of land suitable for new planting. While this looks good on paper, the reality is that this will most likely involve planting thousands of Sitka spruce and other species that return the most profit quickly, but have very negative environmental consequences.

“We all agree on the need for more forestry, but this is not the way to go about it. Imagine the difference a €25 million investment in ordinary family farms would make? I have consistently called for competitive funding to help farmers plant trees, especially broadleaf native varieties.

“Current afforestation incentives are not competitive with other farm subsidies and schemes. This means west Cork farmers are being pushed away from planting trees in favour of beef and dairy.

“Families are just trying to get by. The Department of Agriculture should be supporting farms to develop forestry, not punishing them.

“The Government is failing to show leadership on this issue. They claim they want to increase afforestation rates, which have actually decreased since they took up office. The Minister is trying to distance himself from this deal, despite the fact that a State body is investing millions of euros in it.

“There is a glaring need for a planting programme that supports farmers and commercial forestry. There is a place for forestry companies to meet national timber demands, but this has to be balanced with a massive planting programme of native broadleaf forests.

“Rewilding and biodiversity strategies should encourage farmers to convert portions of agricultural land to native forestry, especially on watercourses, allowing for the establishment of wildlife corridors.”

January 12, 2023

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