That a sum not exceeding £764,700 be granted to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending the 31st day of March, 1952, for Salaries and Expenses in connection with Forestry (No. 13 of 1946), including a Grant-in-Aid for Acquisition of Land.
The net total Estimate for Forestry in the current year shows a net increase of £523,570 over last year.
Sub-head A—Salaries, Wages and Allowances, £103,595; and sub-head B —Travelling Expenses, £12,250. The increases here are due principally to increases in the number of the technical staff.
Sub-head C (1)—Acquisition of Land Grant-in-Aid, £85,000. This is an increase of £20,000 over the amount provided last year. As this is a Grant-in-Aid any unspent balance at the end of the year is carried over to the next year. The balance from last year was approximately £32,000, making a total of £111,000 available for the present year, the remaining £6,000 being required for the payment of annuities to the Land Commission, and of rents of leased lands.
Deputies may wish to be given some account of last year's operations. During 1950-51, eight new forestry centres were opened, bringing the total to 143.
The total area of land acquired during 1950-51 was 21,594 acres, costing approximately £51,200. This compares with 9,122 acres acquired in 1949-50. Since the 1st April a further 5,914 acres have been acquired at a cost of over £20,000. Agreement has been reached with private owners for the purchase of 19,533 acres to cost approximately £100,000. In addition offers to private owners have been made for 20,690 acres, the total cost being £120,000. Negotiations are proceeding with the Land Commission for the transfer of some 1,222 acres to the Forestry Division at a cost of £8,776 and a further 6,830 acres are due to be inspected jointly with the Land Commission.
The figures show that, with the aid of additional staff, acquisition proceedings have been expedited and good progress has been made. Further and more intensive effort will still be necessary if we are to make certain that a three years' reserve of plantable land will be available and, of course, such effort is still more imperative assuming that the rate of planting continues to increase. The total acreage of plantable land in hands amounts to 30,000 acres.
The F.A.O. expert whose report is being printed and which will, I hope, be circulated to Deputies in due course, recommended 3,000 acres as the minimum for an economic forest unit, as compared with the modest 300 acres which the Department insists upon as necessary for a start in a new district. Blocks of 3,000 acres of plantable land can very seldom be secured anywhere in Ireland nowadays in one transaction, and they must be built up patiently by a series of smaller purchases. Provided there are good prospects of expansion in a district, the Department is still prepared to commence with 300 acres or thereabouts, but the practice of declining to acquire small and detached areas except in the immediate neighbourhood of existing forests, or where there are very definite prospects of expansion in the immediate future, must be adhered to so long as other areas for the time being afford a better prospect of economic development.
Sub-head C (2)—Forest Development and Maintenance, £925,500.— There is additional provision this year amounting to £493,920, or almost 90 per cent. of the overall net increase in the total estimate. The very substantial increase asked for is necessary to meet an anticipated increase in planting operations; increased rates of wages now being paid to forestry labourers; the stock-piling of fencing materials; the purchase of the greater part of the heavy machinery, and the building or purchase of a number of houses for occupation by foresters. It is hoped to erect 12 houses, and to purchase two or three existing houses if suitable buildings become available for sale adjacent to any of the forests where there is at present no dwelling-house for the forester in charge.
Practically two-thirds of the money provided under this sub-head is spent on labour, and that is an encouraging indication of the social value of afforestation. During the past year the number of men employed varied from about 2,300 to 3,000. This number will be increased during the present year. To meet future needs, the number of State nurseries has been increased to 50, comprising approximately 600 acres.
Planting operations last winter were much impeded by weather conditions. The total for the year was 9,100 acres, and while this is the highest figure yet reached, I am advised that it is less than would have been achieved in more favourable or even normal circumstances. This programme involved the erection of about 150 miles of standard wire fencing.
The situation as regards the supply of fencing materials is uncertain, and in view of rising prices and possible interruption of supplies, efforts are being made to make forward purchases of wire netting, etc. It is not yet possible to say whether, or how quickly, the orders placed will be fulfilled.
During the past year delivery has been taken of seven heavy tractors and 13 special type drainage ploughs. More of these machines are on order. These machines will be utilised, in the first instance, for the drainage of peat areas already in hands. The forestry branch is very hopeful that the planting of certain limited areas in the Western counties offers distinct possibilities for future development. Operations have begun on an area north of Newport in County Mayo, and at Bally-bofey, County Donegal, and development work will be put in hands elsewhere as soon as the additional tractors come to hand. Similar areas of peat land may be acquired as soon as the planting of those already in hands is nearing completion. In addition, with the aid of another type of plough which is being ordered, subsoiling operations will be commenced upon areas already in hands where the presence of an underlying mineral pan has proved inimical to tree growth. The use of subsoiling machinery will, it is hoped, enable planting to be carried out profitably in considerable areas in the south-west, which would otherwise be unsuitable for planting. I regard these operations as being very largely of an experimental nature for the present.
Under part (1) of sub-head C (3)— Timber Conversion, £106,190—provision is made for thinning and felling operations and for the working of portable saw-mills. Under part (2) provision is made for the running of the Department's fixed saw-mills. The two principal mills are at Dundrum in County Tipperary. and Cong, County Mayo. During the past year the mill at Dundrum has been entirely rebuild and re-equipped with modern machinery. The results of the installation of drying kilns at Dundrum are encouraging, and represent a highly significant achievement in expanding the field for the utilisation of native timber. It is the intention to erect further drying kilns with the saw-mill at Cong.
An increase of £500 is required under sub-head D—Grants for Afforestation Purposes, £2,500—for the payment of grants to private persons or public bodies undertaking planting operations on their own land. I should like to see a great deal more planting undertaken by farmers and landowners. I am convinced that they could make a substantial contribution to the planting programme.
As to sub-head E—Forestry Education, £1,290—with the expansion of the planting programme the intake of forestry trainees, which has never exceeded 12 per annum, has become too small, and it will be necessary to increase the number to double that figure.
It was originally intended to build an extension to Avondale school and a sum of £15,000 included in the provision under sub-head C (2) was earmarked for this purpose. The recent acquisition of the Shelton Abbey estate near Arklow for forestry purposes has, fortunately, solved this problem. The Shelton Abbey buildings can with comparatively little cost be put to use as a new forestry school to replace Avondale House. With Shelton Abbey the Department acquired 920 acres and an appreciable quantity of valuable standing timber.
Sub-head H—Appropriations-in-Aid. £116,240—The receipts from the State forests continue to increase annually and it is estimated that an additional £20,000 will be realised this year. Heretofore, there has been some difficulty in disposing of small thinnings, but I am glad to be able to state that a market has now been found for the entire output. Increased revenue is also anticipated from sawn timber.
In regard to the Forestry Act, the number of felling notices received during the past year shows a marked increase upon the previous year and this is probably due in part to the increasing cost of imported timber and in part to the fuel situation. The period for replanting allowed under licences granted under the Forestry Act of 1928 will expire at the end of this year, and, as there are now ample stocks of transplants of most varieties to be had from the commercial nurseries, the Department will insist on the fulfilment of these replanting obligations without further delay.