Forestry Sector and Climate Action Plan: Discussion

We will resume the meeting in public session. Before we begin, I remind members, witnesses and those in the Public Gallery to ensure their mobile phones are switched off completely. I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Andrew Doyle, and his officials. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss with the Minister of State the challenges in the forestry sector in the context of the climate action plan. The joint committee also requested that the Minister of State comment on the impact of ash dieback on woodlands.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I invite the Minister of State to make his opening statement. I ask him to be as concise as possible.

I thank the Chairman and the members of the committee for inviting me to discuss the opportunities and challenges in the forestry sector in the context of the climate action plan. I welcome the climate action plan and acknowledge the work that has gone into its preparation. In particular, I acknowledge the work done by the all-party committee chaired by Deputy Hildegarde Naughton and the comprehensive set of recommendations that emerged from that in-depth consideration. The climate action plan underlines how essential it is that we all act now to meet the challenge of climate change and underlines that it is in all of our interests and those of future generations to work together to safeguard our future. The plan has a strong focus on implementation, including actions with timelines and steps needed to achieve each action, assigning clear lines of responsibility for delivery.

Agriculture currently accounts for 33.3% of Ireland’s total greenhouse gas emissions so the long-term challenge for the agriculture sector is to meet the national policy objective of adopting an approach to carbon neutrality that does not compromise the capacity for sustainable food production. To meet our emissions reduction target, we will need extensive behavioural change by each and every individual farmer. It will be require getting better, not just bigger, and focusing on productivity enhancements rather than just numbers.

My focus today is forestry and the challenges and opportunities relating to climate change mitigation and adaptation. Before I go further, it should be noted that we have been following a three-pillar approach to climate change, namely, to reduce emissions where we can, to increase carbon sequestration and to displace fossil fuel and energy intensive materials with renewable sources. These principles are also reflected in the plan, with the second and third of them presenting both opportunities and challenges in the forestry sector. There are 34 actions in the plan relating to agriculture, forestry and land use, namely, actions 101 to 134, inclusive, a number of which focus on the role of forestry.

Forests and wood provide a triple climate benefit through active sequestration of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the long-term storage of carbon and by substituting non-renewable materials with larger carbon footprints. The role of forests as potential sinks and sources of greenhouse gases is well recognised in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC, the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement but the development of accounting rules has been challenging at both European and international level. The figures and targets in the plan are, therefore, the outcome of in-depth analysis and negotiation.

In summary, the EU agreed regulations in 2018 covering emissions reduction targets for the accounting period 2021-2030 for the non-ETS sectors and land use, land use change and forestry - usually shortened to LULUCF - accounting rules, which cover managed forestland, crop land, grassland and wetland. These two regulations are linked as EU member states can employ a capped amount of net accountable removals from LULUCF to meet their emissions reduction goal for the non-ETS sectors. For Ireland, this cap is set at 26.8 million tonnes of CO2 for the ten-year period. The LULUCF regulation presents opportunities to expand the important role of forests and wood in climate action while providing recognition in terms of increased removals and emissions reduction, but also presents challenges to ensure that forest management practices continue to be conducted in a sustainable manner, including the use of bioenergy.

Given Ireland's recent and outgoing afforestation policy and regulatory environment, managed forests as a whole should be a substantial contributor to Irish emission reduction targets for 2030 and provide the majority of the possible contribution from LULUCF. Ensuring this contribution is achieved will involve continued afforestation, avoided deforestation and the ongoing dedication of industry to sustainable forest management practices, hence the range of actions in the climate action plan relating to forestry.

The Government has actively supported the development of Irish forestry through the national forestry programmes over the years. The most recent national forestry inventory, the results of which I launched this time last year, found that forests account for 11% of the total land area of Ireland, with forest cover estimated to be at its highest level in more than 350 years. We are currently benefiting from our investment in forestry from previous programmes, with the establishment of a vibrant, export-led timber processing industry, including providing significant contribution towards meeting our targets in climate change.

We need, however, to maximise the climate mitigation benefits of forestry. To this end, we will, as outlined in the plan, increase afforestation rates from their current levels to an average of 8,000 ha per annum, supplement the attractive financial incentives already in place under the forestry programme with knowledge transfer programmes to raise awareness of the benefits of forestry and ecosystem services, tackle the attitudinal and behavioural barriers to changing land management and use through promotional and communication campaigns, ensure ongoing action to manage the risk to current carbon stocks from natural disturbances such as fires and deforestation, and support and encourage the construction of forest roads to allow for the efficient and timely harvesting of timber for delivery to the market.

There has been considerable focus on increasing the rate of new planting to an average of 8,000 ha each year. This matter was recently raised with me in the Seanad. As I mentioned in my response, my Department currently approves around 9,000 ha every year for afforestation but the conversion rate to planting consistently remains at approximately 60%.

This means that the Irish forestry sector and landowners have at their disposal planting approvals for up to 10,000 ha. The challenge that arises relates to the translation of those approvals into plants in the ground if the targets are to be met. An average of 8,000 ha per annum of newly planted forests does represent a significant challenge. We propose to meet this challenge through the continued availability of grants and premiums for landowners to plant new forests, promotion of farm forestry, a focused promotion and communication campaign and continued dialogue with stakeholders, including Coillte and other State bodies. Ways in which farm forestry can be better aligned and integrated with the CAP will also be explored.

One of the actions in the plan is "to implement the Forestry Programme 2014-2020 in line with Mid-Term Review recommendations and targets set". The implementation of the forestry programme, which offers a wide range of options and grants and annual premiums for landowners, continues to be a priority. As matters stand, the current programme is averaging afforestation rates of 5,500 ha per annum, or 75% of its overall target. This will clearly need to be improved to meet the goals of the climate action plan. My Department and I have ongoing engagement with stakeholders to ensure that issues and challenges are addressed as they arise and that we avail of opportunities to promote afforestation. I chair a forestry implementation group and a forestry promotion group which are working together as regards implementation and ways to promote afforestation, respectively.

We should also be cognisant of the challenges and risks to forest posed by climate change. It is important that adaptation options are considered in order to improve resilience. Climate change will have impacts resulting from increased levels of atmospheric CO2, changes in air and soil temperatures, changes in rainfall patterns and extreme events such as those involving wind. To assist in this context, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, and I launched a public consultation process last week on a draft climate change adaptation plan in the agriculture, forestry and seafood sectors. In addition to focusing on mitigation or reducing the emissions that cause climate change, we also need to take steps in climate adaptation planning. Submissions on the draft plan are welcome from interested parties as we need to work together to ensure that our forests and forest management take adaptation into account.

Linked to resilience is species diversity. We have seen the impact of ash dieback on our ash woodlands. The committee will be discussing this issue later. I am well aware of the impact of ash dieback on Ireland's ash plantations. When this disease first presented, we put in place an Exchequer-funded reconstitution scheme to restore affected-forests. Since then, over 1,600 ha have been restored at a cost of €4.4 million. However, when the scientific outlook changed and it became evident that the disease could not be eradicated, the scheme was suspended in April 2018 in order that a comprehensive review could be undertaken. Landowners who wished to continue growing their ash forests could continue to be paid their annual premiums and the woodland improvement thinning and tending scheme remains available to ash plantation owners. The review has taken the form of extensive consultation and evaluation and initial indications are that it has identified a broader and more responsive range of options to assist owners in managing affected forests. I hope to be in a position to announce the full results of the review shortly.

The Government has shown its ongoing commitment to this and other issues relating to the development of Irish forestry through its annual budgetary allocation and its approval of both the forestry programme and the enhancements to the measures in the programme following the mid-term review. This ongoing support was clear recognition of the contribution which forestry continues to make to the economy, environment and society in Ireland. Forestry combines the best climate mitigation land use that we have as well as a viable and sustainable land use income for farmers. The climate action plan gives us in the forestry sector an opportunity at a national level to highlight the importance of forestry and endorses the investment that both the State and individual landowners have made to date in its development. It presents challenges but I am satisfied that we are up to meeting them. My priority, and that of my Department, will be the implementation of the range of actions relating to forestry. The sector also has its part to play in engaging with local communities to ensure that the multifunctional benefits of forestry are there for all. I look forward to the members' contributions.

I welcome the Minister of State and his officials. I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive report. I would like a more detailed breakdown of the numbers. The Minister of State indicated that the target is 8,000 ha and that we are achieving 5,500 ha. When harvest is incorporated what is the net gain in new forestry? How many hectares of existing forest are being harvested every year and are they being replanted?

I thank the Minister of State for his presentation. I live in Leitrim where people feel that there has been over-afforestation which has been detrimental to rural communities and there is a serious problem of rural decline and depopulation and the continuous creep of forestry over the landscape is doing nothing to help those communities. The solution we hear is that there is lots of work in it. We do not see the jobs in Leitrim. There are a few jobs in Masonite, where people are processing the pulp wood and some driving trucks are drawing away the timber. Apart from those, however, there are no sustainable jobs to keep people in the community.

Carbon sequestration was the main matter to which the Minister of State referred. Thousands of acres of forestry were planted on what was shallow bog on the mountain sides from Drumshanbo to Ballinamore and through the mountain ranges in Leitrim. Every scientist tells us that if that bog had been left alone, it would sequestrate three times the amount of carbon that it does under forestry. Will that be replanted or will the original habitat, which was better for carbon sequestration be restored. In regard to the issue of the carbon credits, we hear of farmers whose methods produce a lot of carbon. To counteract this, they buy land in the west and other areas and use it to build up carbon credits. Who owns those carbon credits? Is it the person who owns the forest or the State? What value do they have?

Planning is a big issue in many rural areas, particularly in regard to tourism, in areas of great scenic beauty because when forestry creeps in people cannot see the lakes or mountains. They can see only Sitka spruce, black trees growing up in front of them. That is a big problem. Planning permission for forestry is granted only if it is for over 50 ha, which is at least twice the size of most of the land that has been sold for forestry. In the rural north west, landholdings are generally small, at an average of between 20 and 25 ha. Can something be done about the planning permission so that people in the community could feel that they have an input into it?

People also have a gripe about the tax free element of this. There are very few things that we do in this world that are totally tax free and forestry is one of them. That, coupled with the fact that grants available for non-farmers are the same as those for a farmer, make many people in rural communities very sore. They see people from outside the area come in and buy up land, inflating the price of it so that the local farmers cannot compete to buy that land.

They get the same level of grant as a local farmer would get to plant it and any money they make on it is tax free. Some of these individuals are very wealthy business people or people who have a lot of money. They use forestry as an investment from which they can make a massive profit and tax-free income. People feel that is unfair and unjust to the local community. I come across such people all the time. These are small farmers who see a farm coming up for sale beside them and want to buy it. They cannot afford to do so. If they decided to buy the farm, the only way to make money from it would be to plant forestry. Many of these people do not want to plant the land. They want to farm but that opportunity is denied them because the particular system or structure in place prevents farmers from being able to survive in that respect. An article on the AgriLand website today sums up the position. Many people expect that forestry will replace the suckler farming. Many of us believe it will replace the communities we live in, never mind the cows. The issue of the farmer versus the non-farmer is key. It flies in the face of all we hear about the protection of rural communities that the people whose families have been the custodians of rural Ireland for generations find themselves being undermined and bought out. Anyone with more money can come in and buy them out, secure the same grants as they can and make profits that are tax free. Those are issues that the Minister of State needs to address. In County Leitrim, the statistics indicate approximately 17% or 18% of the land is planted, but forestry probably covers more than 50% of available land. This is having a detrimental effect on rural communities in the area.

I thank the Minister of State. There is no doubt that forestry has a central role to play in carbon mitigation by virtue of its sequestration properties. It is, therefore, critical to any climate action plan. I note the three pillar approach based on reducing emissions, increasing carbon sequestration and displacing fossil fuels by renewable resources. We are talking about 11% of the total land area and the Minister of State is aiming to have 8,000 ha planted every year. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, we were talking about 10,000 ha per annum. We have, therefore, regressed. We cannot come within an ass's roar of 8,000 ha of new forestry each year. The current figure is approximately 5,700 ha per annum. It is no wonder there are many issues.

The Minister of State indicated that the translation of approvals into actual planting is the critical aspect, and I agree. It is critical, as Deputy Martin Kenny stated, that forestry is located in the correct areas. It is a little like the wind turbine craic where the boys arrived in town with their chequebooks and overnight they were placing turbines all over the place, with no care for the community. The land scheme should be aimed at farmers. One sees what happens when it all goes wrong. It should be farmer orientated.

The Forest Service is not well. The ash dieback issue has not been handled well and there is much distrust and anger out there. A presentation will made to the committee later, which I will quickly read through. It is not good if people are not happy, as the Minister of State would acknowledge is the case. He has some forestry on his land. How are we to achieve objectives and targets if people are unhappy? The rate of forestry has declined significantly in recent years. It was higher when I was first elected to the Dáil.

The thinning grant is of no use to farmers because it does not compensate the owner for the financial loss he or she is experiencing. Thinning grants are just a management tool. They are great if one is young, fit and able bodied but they do not cover the cost of having the timber cut and brought to the roadside. Most contractors require the full grant and felled timber as payment.

On ash dieback, allowing ash growers to enter a new scheme or remove their ash plantations and return their land to grass could be feasible if there were no loss to the grower. The disease was imported into Ireland at a time when little attention was paid to the fact that it was rampant in Europe. Where were the protocols? Where was the biosecurity screening?

There are many issues with the replanting of areas of ash plantations with conifer plantations. The minute one starts to do this, one becomes bogged down in bureaucracy, red tape, excess costs and the usual crossing of t's and dotting of i's. I was talking to a top-class hurley manufacturer, Mr. Peter Curran, in Cloghan, which is in my constituency. Mr. Curran was a good hurler and, like many others, he is now making hurleys. Sourcing ash butts for hurleys is difficult. The hurley manufacturers are bearing the brunt of the ash dieback problem, even though they are not at fault. They did not allow the disease into the country. The Minister of State has a wide brief and will have good knowledge of this area. In the course of the CAP negotiations, will landowners be allocated a budget in acknowledgement of their contribution to biodiversity and wildlife habitats, an issue the Minister of State addressed? These farmers are dealing with the most organic land in the country. There is no recognition given to careful stewardship. The Minister of State and others who sow know that.

We often look across the water to see how things are going. Is Scotland reaching its targets or is there a model there that we could learn from? It is important to examine what works well elsewhere to see if has potential applicability here.

I have to ask the Minister of State something I was asked a few weeks ago. Are tree sapling plants of different species being imported and approved for new forestry plantations? I am not an expert in this area. If they are being imported, are we putting in place appropriate protocols and security measures to make sure we do not experience further problems? What percentage of root stock is imported each year for the forestry sector? If the Minister of State is trying to achieve the targets he set out, does that mean root stock imports would increase? It may well be the case that we could provide that here. It was brought to my attention that there is an invasive bark beetle knocking around in the United Kingdom which could affect conifer plantations, especially through importation for processing. The Minister of State will know more about this sector than anybody. It involves the guts of 12,000 jobs and €2.3 billion to the economy. We were talking about the EU-Mercosur trade agreement in terms of the agricultural sector but imagine if the forestry sector was hit again. Perhaps that might be worth examining.

I read the points made in the Minister of State's submission regarding the reconstitution scheme. I have also read the presentation the Limerick and Tipperary Woodland Owners have submitted. I also have no expertise in this area. Approximately 16,000 ha of land were restored and approximately €4.5 million spent before the scheme was suspended. A review of the scheme has been 12 months in gestation. My grandmother - may the Lord have mercy on her - used to say that long churning makes bad butter. This butter must be getting rancid. I hate these reviews. The Minister of State will recall from his time as Chairman of this committee that I can be cantankerous when discussing reviews because they take too long. What is the Department reviewing? What is going on? Did the reconstitution scheme work? That is the basic question. Where did the money that was given to the Department go? Did the €4.4 million all go to the register of foresters or to sales? Were sales required to cover the cost of reconstituting the ash plantation?

Have any farmers who should have been compensated not received compensation? Is there an underspend in the forestry industry each year? If there is, surely we should redirect some of that money to farmers who have sustained significant losses as a result of ash dieback. The disease seems to be particularly prominent in two or three counties.

Who was involved in the creation of the reconstitution scheme, which may have preceded the Minister? Was there a high-level stakeholder committee, or were any Members involved in it? I always like to find out whether many stakeholders from the industry in question are involved in such committees. The Minister of State has referred to the industry but when that industry is hit, it hits the small people. It does not affect the big boys at the top who are dictating to others. Who was on that committee? Were they foresters, consultants, sawmill or nursery owners, contractors or representatives of Coillte? Were individuals who had been hit on it? How many people on the committee were typical, average forest owners? The Minister of State is probably wondering why I have a particular interest in this area. My uncle, Lord have mercy on him, was a forester for about 40 years, so I am interested in it. The Minister of State makes his own decisions and will not take any advice from us, but the best advice I can give him is that if he intends to conduct any more reviews, he should put together a forestry stakeholder committee made up of ordinary, typical private forest owners in order to get their views on the schemes he is putting forward. Those 9,000 or 10,000 ha should be planted in order to achieve carbon sequestration. A number of farmers might consider doing that if there was an increased premium involved. Those ordinary forest owners might be able to tell us how to get there.

I refer again to hurling. A few years ago, a plan was set out with the intention of achieving self-sufficiency in hurley butts by the end of 2019 and a 70% reduction in hurley butt imports. Are we going to meet this target? The production and manufacture of hurleys has created 600 jobs in rural areas. People are involved in this industry right across the country, from Canning Hurleys in Galway to Curran Hurling in Westmeath. That is important. The Minister of State has done some work in this area, for which I salute him. In 2018, hurling was declared a form of intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO. How will the Minister of State rectify the loss of our native ash trees and commercial ash plantations to ensure we comply with the awarding of cultural heritage status to our national heritage and national sport?

We need to support forest owner groups, including with transition. I have always supported Coillte but it is not doing enough to meet its forestry targets, and I said as much to its new chairperson, Ms Bernie Gray from County Longford, when she was before this committee. Coillte has failed to meet its targets and all sorts of excuses are being put forward for that. If the company is failing to meet its targets, we should import the bare minimum and ensure small farmers and small forest owners are supported because their contribution to biodiversity is absolutely critical at this point in time and will serve us well in the future. I ask the Minister of State to address some of those issues.

I thank the Deputy. I ask the Minister of State to take those three questions first.

Are there only three questions?

There are three in that lot.

I will address Senator Paul Daly's question first. When an application comes in for a tree-felling licence part and parcel of that licence is a replanting obligation, so in the vast majority of cases a plantation is replanted after it is clear-felled.

Some questions were raised about monoculture in County Leitrim and other areas. Those plantations are coming to a mature stage at this point and are in that rotation between 35 and 40 years on average. When they are replanted, while they will be part of the same planting area, only 70% of the area will be covered with conifers, for example, some 15% will be biodiverse and a further 15% will contain diverse species such as broadleaves. The plantations will also be subject to certain rules on setbacks from roads, houses, rivers and streams that were not part of the planting rules that pertained when they were planted all those years ago. The area of cover will be considered the same in the accounting, even though the footprint will be smaller. However, those rules are in place for good reasons. There is no net loss, so any planting is generally counted as afforestation, which is a net increase in the overall area covered.

Deputy Martin Kenny knows that, arising from the claims and concerns expressed about County Leitrim, the Department commissioned a socio-economic study from Dr. Áine Ní Dhubháin of UCD, which is ongoing. She has been given broad scope to take in all consultation and meet all stakeholders in Leitrim and we await her report which will likely be ready by the end of the summer.

Approximately 570 people are employed in the forestry sector in County Leitrim. Masonite is a big employer and many others are employed in transport and sawmills. Not all of those people live in Leitrim but forestry accounts for a larger percentage of the workforce in County Leitrim than in any other county and makes a significant economic contribution. According to my statistics, between €2.7 million and €3 million is paid in premiums to farmers and non-farmers from both inside and outside the county every year. Non-farmers might include family members, retired farmers or people who inherited land. The average plantation is 6 ha, so the issue of corporate investment has more to do with when plantations come out of premium. One concern we have always had is that while farmers might appreciate and have a very good understanding of the value of their livestock or crops, forest owners or farmers who planted years ago were not as tuned in to the value of their plantations. We have many initiatives, including knowledge transfer groups, the COFORD Wood Mobilisation Group and Talking Timber, which aim to make people aware of their plantation's potential and encourage them to hang on to it rather than sell it. Many of the sales that have been referenced are post-premium plantations, which are more than 20 years old in most cases.

Our carbon credits are part of a national inventory. In the UK model, people are allowed to trade their credits, but they do not have generous premium rates, whereas we have a tax-free premium for income forgone. The difference between farmers and non-farmers in that context is that a farmer who submits an area aid application is entitled to include that land as part of the application for the purpose of eligibility.

Deputy Penrose asked about the Common Agricultural Policy. If we are to achieve our farmer participation targets, I see a need for future harmonisation and acknowledgement of the role of forestry in CAP. Pillar 2 of CAP, for instance, should include acknowledgement of the good forestry is doing in carbon storage, carbon sequestration and biodiversity.

Trees will account for 70% of the area of a core plantation, while a further 15% will be an area of biodiversity. There is nothing to stop a value added payment for whatever measure someone decides to incorporate. I envisage a role for a scheme similar to the forestry environment protection scheme which was in place some years ago. That would need to be harmonised with the Common Agricultural Policy on which negotiation is ongoing.

On peat soil, after five to ten years there will be a net sink of carbon. As the forest grows, the carbon stock will be higher than if it remained in peat soils. It has been proposed to rewet some soils, which is a different matter. In general, however, plantations on these soils can be net sequesters and the timber harvested over a number of rotations locks in carbon for up to 80 years. Until the timber in this building is used for firewood, it will continue to lock in the carbon that has been stored in it while the tree grew. The trees that replaced that timber continues to store carbon. We must consider the many benefits of forestry.

As I stated, I appreciate the necessity to change behaviour and attitudes to forestry. It is accepted that not all practices encouraged a favourable relationship with forestry. I come from County Wicklow which, until last year, had long had the highest percentage of land cover in forestry and it is now only marginally behind County Leitrim in that regard. Forestry cover in County Wicklow stands at almost 18%. We have had a culture and tradition of forestry and it has not been an issue in the same way as it has been in other places, although I accept that the landscape in Wicklow is different. We have a rolling landscape with forestry on high hills, which means people may not find it as intrusive as they do elsewhere. There is work to do in this regard.

Last week, when I visited the Teagasc facility at Moorepark I put it to senior Teagasc staff that they should consider planting broadleaf forest, especially along the River Liffey, to demonstrate what can be done on fertile landscape in that part of the world. This is a demonstration farm for dairy farmers and they should be shown how to do this too. There is a role for everyone. There are land use regulations and environmental concerns which some might say are excessively restrictive or can slow down the application process. We receive that complaint regularly. Ironically, I have received emails from County Leitrim objecting to Coilte clear-felling a spruce plantation because it is a nesting ground for the sparrowhawk, red squirrel and badger. At other times, I am told that spruce plantations are blanket forestry which do not allow for any habitats or wildlife. We need to get some balance into this discussion but I accept it must come from both sides.

Does the Minister of State accept there is an imbalance in County Leitrim?

I accept that just as I accept that cigarette companies advertising on Formula 1 cars for years was wrong. We did not know what the impact would be. I see plantations that extend as far as the road at the Wicklow Gap being clear-felled. When they are replanted they will be set back from the road so that views will not be obstructed. That was practice at the time and it was not confined to County Leitrim. The rules that pertain now are totally different. If a plantation that was planted 35 or 40 years ago is clear-felled today, the new plantation will be set back from the road, there will be a buffer of broadleaf trees and 15% of the area will be reserved for biodiversity. There are many protocols and rules in place now which were not in place previously. That will manifest over time.

Whether in the area of forestry or suckler and beef herds, there are 12 grant and premium categories and other incentives. One which we have not been able to promote or has not caught on as much as it could is agroforestry, which allows people to grow trees and continue to farm, albeit not with bovines until after some years. Unfortunately, ash was the favoured tree for that. It was meant to provide stock for hurleys but that came to an end abruptly. We are seeking to have sycamore, birch and cherry as options for those plantations, or even spruce, whether it is 6 m, 8 m or 10 m divisions. Farmers can get a forestry payment on that land for five years, rather than 15 years. It has potential and can help in land drainage too. This is something people can promote. It is not always a case of either-or. People who want to plant some of their land can do an appraisal of their whole property to see if they can enhance their income and use the money to improve the rest of the farm.

For clarity, who owns the carbon credit? Does the State own it?

It is State owned. There is no trade for it. It is factored in.

Can the Minister of State stand over that legally?

I am not a lawyer.

In the UK and New Zealand, people trade carbon credits but they are not paid in the same way as our premium is paid. I am not sure that this is a relevant point at the moment.

It is relevant to the person who has the trees.

The person will have received a grant of 100% to establish forestry and 15 years' premium, with tax-free income on that and a tax-free sale of the product thereafter. As I said, I firmly believe that forestry will have a role to play under the new proposals in the Common Agricultural Policy and its environmental asks. People will be rewarded, whether through payments for carbon or the environmental good they are doing. However, having ownership and participating in a trading system is a whole different ball game. If the Deputy is suggesting that the farmers should be trading in credits in a fluctuating market or a market that is not there at the moment-----

I am not suggesting anything. I am simply asking who owns the carbon credits. If my land is sequestering carbon, who owns the credits which accrue from that? I expect it is the farmer.

The farmer is being paid to provide the land. In the case of mineral rights, the legislation provides that these rights belong to the State when one goes into the ground. I would have to get clarification on that but I would like to know the Deputy's specific question.

The question is who owns the carbon credits.

Who owns the carbon?

Who owns the credit?

Maybe the Minister of State will revert to us on that.

The credit is factored into our mitigation targets. We are looking at measures to try to encourage people. How are they to be rewarded for taking measures, whether eco-systems or otherwise? We do that through the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, GLAS, for instance, under which people are rewarded for providing biodiversity. Who owns the biodiversity? Biodiversity is also a way of improving carbon sequestration.

Perhaps the Minister of State will provide some clarification for the committee with a note on that.

With regard to Deputy Penrose's question, I have dealt with the issue of the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP negotiations.

Scotland was way behind for years and they turned it around and it is worth studying to see how they did it. The dynamic of land ownership in Scotland, however, tends towards larger holdings. If smaller numbers of people need to be convinced to plant then one can achieve a higher hectarage. The Scottish target is 11,000 ha or 12,000 ha and they are near enough to hitting that, but only in the last two years. They had been way behind and we are looking at that situation.

With regard to ash dieback I accept that restoration has taken longer than it should have. When we were trying to address the ash dieback the best practice was to try to eradicate it and then the reconstitution scheme came in. There are those who were affected who say that there was no real reward for them. While they continued to get paid the premium that could be eight, ten, 15 or 20 years of growth and it meant starting from scratch. On the question of not being allowed to replant, notwithstanding what I said to Senator Daly, there are exceptional circumstances. It certainly needs to be looked at. I accept that we should consider it to see what are the implications. Thinning and tending is one option in the reconstitution scheme and partial removal is another, which is a form of continuous cover where one removes affected trees while leaving the trees that appear to be resistant. There was a feeling that by doing a complete clear out of sites perhaps we were doing away with strains that were resistant, which undermined the efforts to rebuild or recreate a resistant strain of the species to the chalara fraxinea disease, ash dieback. As I said earlier, I intend to publish the findings as soon as possible. From memory, when we brought in the stakeholders to discuss this we included the GAA, the IFA, some of the forestry companies and some of the industry people. It was mainly the stakeholders who were involved with trees in the ground.

That is the hole in the bucket and this is why I asked the question.

That is why we brought them in.

Yes, but what about the people who are actually directly affected themselves?

We brought in people from the representatives, but there are 1,600 ha not 16,000 ha that were-----

I said that, yes.

The Deputy said 16,000 ha. Some 16,000 ha would have been great value at €4.4 million.

Who would benefit from that €4.4 million?

This was the problem. The feedback was that it was not going to the landowners. This is one of the reasons we were asked. It was suggested to us that we would look at the scheme to see how we could make it more targeted to the people who were affected. The problem is that the value of the timber that had to be removed was not what it should be because it depended on the age of the timber and the best of it was mainly firewood.

What percentage of the 1,600 ha has had no compensation yet, or has everybody received compensation?

The 1,600 ha has all been compensated. It is the remainder that is outstanding. There are some 15,000 ha remaining. When we see a very small area affected or a small number of trees affected we may not actually go in anymore because of the change of outlook from it being an eradication to a containment programme. It was designed around being an eradication programme but it is accepted that this cannot be achieved. A scheme that is user friendly does not necessarily have to be complete eradication. On the saplings that come in now I am aware that the main nursery in Ireland has enough plants for an 8,000 ha programme next year. There will be some species of trees that will be imported but there is due diligence at points of import. I launched the "Don't Risk It" campaign that covers horticulture and trees and one can see those signs at airports. This is one of the campaigns we actually run. The phytosanitary division monitors all imports and is mindful of the bark beetle that affects the bark of the logs as opposed to plants and is imported.

That is imported.

Yes. We only import logs from a particular area in Scotland. I am aware that they land at Wicklow Port, which is wall to wall with it at the moment. They have the same bio-security clearance that we have here and I believe it the only area from where logs arrive to Ireland.

I have one important question on behalf of the ash owners. The Minister of State has basically admitted something that is true and, in fairness to the Minister of State, it is to his credit. The ash owners are the people who lost out and they remain so. Everybody else got a few bob out of the €4.4 million except them. When the Minister of State is looking at the scheme perhaps compensation is the right thing for them. Will the Minister of State give them a chance and maybe more options than were available previously? Perhaps he will look at the 15 year premium and kick it back - if they get a chance - to year one again. It has gone to three, five or seven years. Let us kick it back and give them a chance to get off the ground again. They have lost their shirts, to put it mildly. It is a horrendous feeling. We can talk about Mercosur and so on but when one thinks about it after hawthorn, ash is the second most important plant in hedgerows. There are some 500,000 km of hedgerow in Ireland. The loss of ash would be a huge loss of carbon sequestration and it would also affect methane filtration. The Minister of State is doing a lot of work in Kyoto, Paris and all those place names but this is a big area here. It is not just for the hurley manufacturers or the ash owners, it is also for the overall communal carbon target of Ireland. I believe we would be losing out. The Minister of State will have to look again at a proper scheme to allow those people to get back on the pitch.

People are continuing to be paid their premium for the moment.

We shall move on as there are four members who wish to contribute.

The Forestry Programme 2014-20 is due to end next year. Has the Minister of State a new works programme or will the Department be waiting on CAP to be announced before he does that? If the Minister of State is waiting for that will he be looking at the plantation of forestry in a broader context rather than focusing on the obvious places such as farms since they have the largest amount of land with potential for plantation? Will the Minister of State indicate if he will be broadening the programmes out to groups such as Crann or the Woodland League, or to citizens? If every household in the State planted a tree, if every school planted ten trees and if every GAA field planted 20 trees along its perimeter, we could have a forest very quickly. Will this kind of thinking form part of the forestry programme? In my area Bord na Móna is looking for biomass. Will the Minister of State also look to encourage this in certain areas where there is a requirement for biomass?

With regard to the type of monocultural plantations, on which Deputy Martin Kenny so eloquently articulates on a regular basis, if moving away from monoculture is the thing to do should we go for polyculture altogether? Might that have in some way prevented ash dieback? Did having the same species planted on many acres have anything to do with it? I know it is something that happened throughout Europe but did the fact it was a monocultural plantation cause the problem in the first place? Has there been a shift in thinking away from monoculture to polyculture?

People who were badly affected by the ash dieback certainly feel aggrieved and there is no doubt about it. They feel they have not been listened to and that they were encouraged to plant those trees and that proper procedures were not in place to monitor the trees being imported. They wound up bearing the brunt of all of this. What can be done about breeding a resistant strain? Is it being considered, possibly by Teagasc? The people who planted them could have a role in this. Perhaps the seedlings could be taken. With regard to forest machinery, there are differing views on the type of forestry and machinery that can be used and whether a new TAMS is something that could be considered to assist in grant aiding something they might be able to avail of. Would people be allowed to put it back into grassland? Has consideration been given to this?

I welcome the Minister of State and his officials. Planting and afforestation are some of the measures we need to take for carbon sequestration as the Minister of State has set out and it is desirable. It is also desirable that we have species diversity in the forests and that the forests are in the right places. Based on the issue Deputy Martin Kenny and the Minister of State discussed with regard to counties that have a lot of forestry, the issue of people accepting forestry is a serious issue. Does the Minister of State consider the existing system, whereby somebody who wants to plant land applies to the Department for a licence, is robust enough? Does it take everything into account that should be taken into account?

The forestry standards book gives advice to people applying for licences on how they should proceed and we have the forestry and landscape guidelines that set out how forestry should proceed ideally. In fact, from my experience I do not know whether it is working in the best way it could and achieving the results it should. It seems to be apart from our planning system, which is operated by the local authorities.

The irony is if people planting a forest want to build a road the chances are they will have to go to the local authority but if they want to blanket an entire area with a forest they do not have to do so. I am not saying it has to be the same system but to what extent are the Minister of State and his officials looking at county development plans? For example, what happens when somebody seeks to plant in an area that has been identified as having scenic value? There are cases where a 60 m setback is not sufficient and it needs to be more. How often is discretion that the Minister of State's officials have to extend the setback exercised?

I am aware of a current case in point. There is a 60 m setback but the forest will be built on a hill. If it was put further back it would be in a hollow. It will be overbearing. It is an agricultural community but there is ribbon development with houses all around it that will be overshadowed by a forest. Even after many years when it is felled people will have to replant.

If someone were going to build a big shed that would have had the same impact on the landscape, such as breaking the horizon, views and distances, the local authority would ask that it be put in the hollow but this does not seem to happen with forestry. I know trees are natural and concrete is not but for us to make forestry more palatable we have to have a more nuanced approach and it definitely has to blend with county development plans. County development plans allow a democratic quotient to come into the equation, whereby any time development plans are passed by the local authority there has been a lot of consultation. There needs to be more dialogue with the public if the Minister of State is to achieve his aspiration of planting more trees in appropriate places.

I note that while there is a recommendation in the guidelines that forestry developers liaise with landowners of neighbouring properties this does not happen but there does not seem to be any penalty. Somebody living far away who owns land and who will not be affected by the forest does not have to consult with anybody and can very well get a licence. I would like to know in what circumstances and how often the Minister of State has increased the setback to more than 60 m. I definitely think 60 m in ribbon development villages is not sufficient.

Having two systems of land use control and development for forestry and buildings, with each not recognising the other and with no blending or harmonious approach as to how forests are developed, will lead to problems. It seems the entire process for getting a licence to plant a forest is done in somewhat splendid isolation to the greater objectives, whether tourism or land amenity, that a local authority may have written into the development plan. I do not see an interface between the two.

I have pointed to many concerns and perhaps the Minister of State can shed some light on the issues and comment on the idea that there needs to be a more integrated approach. I do not know whether it is in all local authorities but my local authority has a special agricultural policy committee that examines this type of issue with regard to agriculture but it is obviously not a planning and development committee. I can see the local authorities are becoming more in tune to these issues and there could be a more integrated approach that might lead to fewer objections because not every case is taken ad hoc.

Naturally not everybody will be happy with developments, and it is the same with regard to planning permission for a house or any other development, but I do not think people in communities are getting their fair say about where forestry goes and where it is desirable to go. There has to be a conversation. We have identified it in other areas of climate action. There has to be a conversation and engagement and people have to agree a general consensus on what the common good requires and then get down to the specifics on the ground with regard to the particular parts of counties. There are parts of my county that were planted with no objection whatsoever. The issue arises near housing. Let not beat about the bush - pardon the pun - or the forest. It has a serious impact on the look of a landscape, particularly where there is no forestry whatsoever. I know we are moving away from monoculture but in any event I do not think people feel that all of the factors in the round are examined sufficiently. The Minister of State might particularly answer the question about issues identified in development plans, such as why we would possibly want to have forestry on land identified as having scenic views or for tourism and why it cannot be precluded. What consideration he is giving to county development plans?

I thank the Minister of State and his officials for their presentation. We are having a very wide ranging discussion on forestry. The first statement I want to make is that farmers' views of forestry as a viable option have worsened recently.

There are several reasons for that. We need to examine them and see why we are not meeting our targets and why farmers have changed their view of forestry. One reason for this is Coillte's practices regarding its contracts with farmers. That has left a very bad taste in people's mouths. Moreover, ash dieback has left people seriously economically inconvenienced, especially in my part of the country. I will say more on ash dieback in a minute.

Hedgerows have been mentioned several times this evening. Hedgerows are definitely not fully recognised in the carbon calculations. While it is tangential to forestry, this country is unique in the amount of hedgerow it has. There must be proper recognition of that.

The Minister said something earlier about the ownership of carbon credits. He referred to the fact that people who own forestry get certain tax concessions. Those concessions were granted to attract people to forestry. I am baffled by the argument that these tax concessions mean they do not have rights where carbon credits are concerned. I disagree with that 100%. Tax incentives are granted on farming, leasing etc. in other areas. No conditions are attached. If a man plants his grounds, the benefit should go to the owner of that ground. Tax incentives around the planting and sale of the product were offered to incentivise afforestation. Carbon credits must belong to the man who planted the land and owns the forest.

I refer to applications for permission to plant and the timeframe over which those permissions are granted. We intended to plant up to 10,000 or 12,000 ha. We are hitting less than 50% of those targets. I am told by people in the business that the delay in receiving an answer from the Department causes people to move on. They get frustrated with the whole system. I would like to get a timeframe. When a person applies for permission to plant land, over what timeframe does the answer come back? The same applies to clear felling. Foresters are frustrated. Over what timeframe is permission to clear fell granted?

The target is 8,000 ha. We are very much behind that. As things stand we do not have any earthly hope of getting within an ass's roar of 8,000 ha in the near future. We must have a root and branch review to explore why that is happening. We must re-examine the 20% rule that applies to unenclosed land whereby a farmer must plant 4 ha for every 1 ha of unenclosed land planted. That rule is totally inappropriate for certain parts of the country. I accept Deputy Kenny's point. Some unenclosed land is not suitable for forestry. It benefits the environment more if left unplanted. However some unenclosed land could be planted and the 20% rule is definitely a serious hindrance.

Another issue I wish to raise is hen harrier land. The restrictions applied to hen harrier land are the only case in which I have ever known the European Commission to completely devalue a person's asset without paying any kind of proper compensation. Hen harrier land has been devalued by 80%. One can compare the figures for what this land made before restrictions were put in place and what it makes now. Land makes roughly one fifth of what it made previously. There was an attempt at compensation for this land last year. An attempt is all it was. It went nowhere near restoring the capital value of the land. To be judged a success, any compensation scheme must restore the capital value of the land. I cannot understand how the Commission has gotten away with this so easily. I have raised this issue before and I will continue to raise it until those landowners get proper compensation.

Afforestation of hen harrier land would be a great help in restoring its capital value. Research shows that different levels of forestry growth would be beneficial for the hen harrier. While I accept that certain open spaces must be maintained, the scientific evidence supporting a blanket ban of plantation of hen harrier land is very vague at best. There is a very strong argument that staged growth of plantation in hen harrier areas would actually be good for the hen harrier population. That needs to be investigated. As I said, those landowners feel extremely sore about the way the capital value of their land has been completely eroded.

I refer also to ash dieback. We will hear a presentation from Limerick and Tipperary growers in a few minutes. We have seen a map showing the affected parts of the country. Kilkenny and Tipperary are the areas with the most cases. The Department is abdicating its responsibility in regard to ash dieback. We imported plants from the Continent at a time when this disease's presence there was widely known. The farmers that planted this did so in good faith. The Department allowed those plants to be imported into the country without any form of biosecurity. The landowners are now suffering serious financial losses. There is an onus on the Department to make good that loss. It can be done in several ways. The Minister said earlier that the Department is continuing to pay the premium. That is well and good, but the crop will have very little or no economic value. As has been said, in spite of the costs of tending it the crop is firewood at best. Its value has been completely eroded.

At the very least, there must be help for the farmer to clear the site if he or she wants to do so. If the farmer wants to put it back into grass production, he or she should receive help; if the farmer wants to replant the land, he or she should most definitely get a grant. That is the very least that could be done. The farmer should receive the premium for several years after replanting. That is only fair. This disease was completely outside landowners' control. It should not have happened and if there was more biosecurity it would not have happened. These men have suffered serious loss. My own county and County Kilkenny are the worst affected, but the disease is in a number of areas. This has gone on for too long. Some men were told they would not get any compensation because the trees in the diseased plantation were above a certain height. I am glad that a review of the scheme is ongoing. That review must recognise that there has been serious financial loss. Those people must be given options to allow them to get economic value back into their land. That must be addressed. We will hear from some of the landowners later on. It is a burning issue for those farmers, who feel very let down by the recognition they have gotten so far.

One more member wishes to comment. We will take all the questions together if that is all right.

I will be very brief, as I realise the evening is moving on. My question to the Minister is about ethos, where the forestry programme is going and tying in all sections of the agriculture industry. In his presentation he mentioned the event at Moorepark last week, which some 10,000 people attended. It was a massive event, attended by dairy farmers from every part of the country. It featured no real discussion of the forestry programme and no effort to get farmers to buy in and become a part of this industry. That is the issue. I was at the event. Perhaps I missed it.

We need to have a real conversation about dairy farmers giving a portion of their land over to the forestry programme. We need that buy-in but it is not there. Unfortunately, forestry is regarded as a dirty industry in many ways. I mean no disrespect but involvement in forestry suggests that a farmer perhaps failed or has bad land. There has to be a change of view. That change and the buy-in to which I refer need to happen for the benefit of the economy, the environment and farming.

The Minister got a bit of stick last year when he stated that perhaps 2% of a holding should be in forestry. How can we get that buy-in from the farming community? If what the Minister is seeking happened, how could we put a scheme in place to help the industry change and transfer? We are all part of the industry in many ways. We all go to discussion groups but the dairy discussion groups never talk about forestry or about setting half an acre aside for forestry. That does not come into the view of the Teagasc adviser in that discussion group. How will we tie all those things together? I have not seen it yet. If we are to make the major inroads that the Minister of State says need to happen, there has to be buy-in. What is the Minister of State's policy to ensure that we can get the buy-in from the dairy and beef industries? What species does he think should be planted? What percentage of landholding should be tied into it? What role should a Teagasc adviser at a beef or dairy discussion group play in that regard. What part should that play in the context of the knowledge transfer scheme in order that we can change people's view? Some farmers, if they see a batch of spruce trees, might ask what is happening and state that the land involved has gone out of farming permanently. That needs to change. How can the Department work to ensure that can happen?

I thank the Minister of State and his officials for attending. The Minister of State said that while the overall objective is to have 8,000 ha per annum but we are reaching only 5,500 ha. He did not provide much detail about how he plans to address that and increase the amount involved. He referred to different communications and campaigns but in recent years the area planted has been less than the target. In particular, considering that 8,000 ha per annum forms a key part of our climate change and sequestration targets, unless there is some radical change it is difficult to see how those objectives will be met. I would appreciate it if he could supply a little more detail on the thought process in the Department in that regard.

Previous speakers have thrashed out the issues regarding Sitka spruce and the single-species plantations that are happening. What is the Department's thought on increasing the plantation of broadleaf trees, which are more biodiversity-friendly? What are the pros and cons from point of view of carbon capture? It is my understanding that it is much slower and takes longer. In addition, it does not pay off to the same extent. There is no doubt that Sitka spruce the single-species plantations lay waste to many of the areas planted the necessary biodiversity simply is not there. Biodiversity is present when there is a greater focus on broadleaf trees.

It is projected that, post 2030, there will be a significant drop in the contribution that our national forest cover can make in the context of reaching our targets. This is because we are approaching a cliff edge regarding the amount of forestry that is due to be harvested up to the early 2030s. What is the Minister of State's view on that and how will it affect the contribution of forestry in the context of our climate change objectives?

While the Minister of State mentioned climate change mitigation factors, there was very little detail regarding what is involved. Senator Lombard hit the nail on the head when he talked about buy-in among dairy farmers regarding what needs to be done. That is important. Would the Minister of State expand on the measures he proposes or is considering in the context of increasing the amount of land under forestry? It is vital that it is not all commercial forestry, which is totally different. It provides some sequestration but the trees are going to be harvested and the carbon will be released through that process.

The Minister of State outlined five factors for increasing afforestation but two of them relate to harvesting more quickly and improving the methods used rather than improving afforestation and carbon sequestration, which is what is necessary under the climate action plan. Could he talk about this and how the upcoming CAP will contribute to that because I worry about whether it will?

I thank the Minister of State for his presentation. There are whitethorn and other types of trees on farms throughout the country. Not one of them is allowed for sequestration. Why has Government not made some move on that? Years ago, large numbers of trees were planted on raised bogs. Those trees would not take root properly because of the prevailing winds. However, but there is still an obligation on people to replant the forestry on those raised bogs. This seems to fly in the face of what the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment is saying.

We see accredited companies come in to plant trees and build the mounds - the whole job - and then look after everything during a stabilisation period of three years. If there are problems afterwards, however, the companies have ridden off into the sunset. Are there any clauses the Department can use to make them more accountable?

I agree with Deputies Kenny and Cahill about the carbon credits. Grants and tax breaks were given in respect of forestry because the Government could not get people to grow trees. It is not stated anywhere in the document who owns the carbon credits and there is no clause to indicate that the Government has them. I would like a response in that regard.

We have dealt with a few cases in which a forestry zone that had not changed for ten or 12 years was reduced on foot of a satellite adjustment or reassessment, and clawbacks were made as a result. I am a contractor. If a fellow paid me 12 years ago to mow an 11-acre field, and it ended up that it was a 10.5-acre field, he would not be getting any money back. If our positions were reversed, I would not be getting any money back. I do not know how a clawback can be made up to 12 years later.

Has the Department considered the number of designations in a county? There is a lot of talk about County Leitrim, but this is not about one county. Could we look at the extent to which rivers and lakes throughout the country have been designated in order to discover what percentage of each county is in a designated area?

Deputy Cahill was right to point out that Coillte has not covered itself in glory. The way it has handled contracts has left a bad taste in the mouth for many farmers. Is the Minister of State disappointed about that? Has the Department done anything to give a bit of a boot to what it is doing?

When we were young - it is a while ago - there was a shelter belt of 50 or 80 trees in every field. On a bad day, we would see cattle in around the shelter belt. Some sort of innovative idea is needed to encourage the planting of 50 trees here and 100 trees there. I am not saying that a particular species of tree should be favoured. If one could claim for an acre every time one planted 1,000 trees, even if they were along the ditch or up on the ditch, one could gain ground. This was done years ago. We cut them in the 1980s and 1990s when the EU gave grants to knock every ditch in the place and take every tree out of it. Why is there no innovative thinking to ensure that tree planting is not confined to a corner of a farm or a single field?

I would like to caution the Minister of State in one respect. He mentioned rivers. That would take up a fairly large area. When trees are being planted along a river, there is a need to ensure space is provided in order that the river can be cleaned. Trees should be planted outside the space needed to allow a machine to go along by the river. I would caution those involved to remember that trees take up space.

There is a problem with trees that were planted without any grant being drawn on them. It is not the Department's fault. Some of these trees are nearly coming into people's houses from the adjoining lands. Nothing can be done, to be quite honest about it. Many people are finding that their light is being blocked out. Setback distances are crucial. Many people who have forestry adjacent to their houses have a genuine fear that they will be in trouble if a fire ever breaks out. They are not being alarmist. There should be no doubt that there will be forestry around Ireland. People are not against it. I know the Minister of State is trying to do this differently by bringing in broadleaf trees, etc. If we do not address the problems that exist, people will not come on board. I ask the Minister of State to respond to the questions I have asked.

A variety of questions have been asked. I ask the Minister of State to answer as many of them as possible. He might come back to the committee on those he is unable to answer.

I will do my best. I ask members to bear with me. I have forgotten any questions, they should remind me of them so I can try to address them.

I will begin by responding to Deputy Corcoran Kennedy. It is a helpful coincidence that the CAP programme and the new afforestation programme will run in tandem. I have always said that the two programmes need to have regard to each other. The internal preparation for the next afforestation programme is under way within the Department. The Deputy asked whether organisations such as Crann will be involved. There is an opportunity in some of the community-led schemes. The NeighbourWood scheme is in place to facilitate public initiatives such as community-owned initiatives. I have seen NeighbourWood schemes at home and in County Mayo and other places. The Department supports the creation of woodlands under this scheme in public spaces, which allows such projects to have an educational dimension. For example, native trees and, in particular, broadleaf trees are identified and marked along routes such as Slí na Sláinte ways which encourage people to participate in healthy activities.

There have been seven different measures under the TAMS programme, which was mentioned by the Deputy. It has been exclusively for farmers up to now. This should be considered as part of the CAP review. The specialist removal equipment that could be considered as part of such an approach is not the standard equipment.

The Deputy referred to grassland replanting. There is a replanting obligation as part of the afforestation programme, which is meant to increase the net area. Restoring lands to grassland can be considered in the context of ash dieback or perhaps some other exceptional circumstance in which land is not suitable,. In general, however, the replanting obligation is in place because this is an afforestation programme.

I assure Senator Mulherin that the application system has regard to areas that have been designated as special areas of conservation or Natura sites, or where habitats are present. Such factors must be taken into consideration. County development plans are also considered. Site notices are required under the 2014 Act. The enabling legislation has been in place for two years now. Site notices have to be put up. There is a 28-day opportunity to make submissions, an opportunity to make an appeal and an independent appeals office. When applications are made in respect of all roads with the exception of motorways and national roads, the new requirements are incorporated into the Department's application system as part of the planning process. The Senator referred to the requirement to have a 60 m setback distance from a dwelling. This distance can be increased in certain circumstances, where appropriate.

Deputy Cahill asked a range of questions. Hedgerows have not been included in the system. There is an argument for including them. In recent years, almost 4,000 km of new hedgerows have been instated under environmental schemes like GLAS and AEOS. Coppicing and other approaches are being pursued. I accept that hedgerows could and should be seen as part of our biodiversity from a carbon sequestration perspective. In any event, I have read that regardless of the type of plantation, hedgerows are considered to be better stores or reservoirs from a biodiversity perspective than conifer or broadleaf planations. I have heard this stated and I have no reason to disagree with it.

The aim of the tax incentive, which has been accepted, was to encourage people. Approximately 85% of the €3 billion in Exchequer funding that has been spent in this area since 1990 has gone to farmers. It has been successful. We have 300,000 ha more forestry in the system now than we had in 1990. The rate of increase has slowed down for a number of reasons. At the outset, we were able to concentrate on the low-hanging fruit by incentivising afforestation on areas of land that were readily available. There are competing demands now. There are tax incentives for long-term leasing. We have seen an expansion in the dairy sector. Despite the position taken by some people, we have seen stricter guidelines and more stringent assessment in the approvals process.

Some will say that this has slowed it down while others will argue that it is not restrictive enough. We have seen designations of land in terms of the hen harrier, the freshwater pearl mussel, acid sensitivity and others come into place, which has made it more onerous to get an approval and which has required resourcing in the form of archaeologists in the Department, an additional two of whom have been recruited. There is also ongoing recruitment of geologists.

This is something that we have to move and evolve with. As to the hen harrier, Deputy Cahill referred to the research and studies that have shown that with a proper thicket mix, anything from pre-thicket to post-thicket and first thinnings onwards, if the balance is got right, there can be a healthy environment with forestry at a certain level in plantations. That is certainly an argument that we have made and submitted to the National Parks and Wildlife Service. We advocate that controlled, managed afforestation can be allowed in hen harrier zones. The full approval for that lies outside our Department's control at the moment and this will continue to be the case. We agree that this can be managed sensibly and I do not see why it should not be.

I am not sure if Deputy Cahill asked the question, but on clear-fell timelines, 83% are approved within four months, 93% are within six months, and year-to-date approvals are up 270%, so there has been a significant ramping up. One archaeologist has been working full time on felling licence applications. We have an appeals process on that, on roads, and on approvals for planting. The new legislation has not been without its resources challenges in ensuring that the system works.

Turning to the question that was asked on making the system work better, Deputy Penrose asked about Scotland. If we can compare like with like and what lessons can be learned from their system, administration and processing are things that we are conscious of needing to be worked upon all of the time.

What is the timeframe for the applications to receive permission to plant?

We have turned that around this year. I have the statistics and I will come back to the Deputy on that.

That is not a problem for me.

On Senator Lombard's question on Moorepark, there was a Teagasc village and there were afforestation people from the Department. Mr. Tom Dowling from Teagasc was definitely there advocating forestry. Every green certificate has a module on afforestation. Although I cannot say that definitively of the dairy knowledge transfer discussion groups, most knowledge transfers do have such a module. The ambition is that every discussion group would have such a module on considering forestry. It is part of the Teagasc plan. I expect that it will be implemented over the course of next year. A module on considering the planting of trees as part of the farm enterprise certainly forms part of the green certificate courses. It is not instead of or an either-or situation. This goes to a further point which Deputy Fitzmaurice made about shelter belts, to which I will return.

On Deputy McConalogue's question on diverse species, the afforestation programme of 2014 to 2020 sought to have a 30% broadleaf mix. One of the reasons it was difficult to get approval for any more than 20% of unenclosed land was that we were not hitting that target. We undertook a mid-term review in 2017 and published and enacted the recommendations of that in 2018, which included enhanced payments and incentives for broadleaves. We have seen in the course of that year the percentage of broadleaves go from approximately 22% up to 28%. The indications are that it is 28% and maybe closer to 30% this year. Those have been the incentives in every plantation. The monoculture plantation system does not exist anymore. We have native woodland schemes and a woodland environment fund which will involve the private sector, the corporates or whatever, as part of their corporate social responsibility. A one-off payment is made to landowners on top of the establishment grant and the premiums to plant a native woodland scheme. We have incentives in place in the form of a woodland improvement scheme and a continuous cover forestry scheme. There are a range of measures and are listed. I picked up the Teagasc forestry programme for 2014 to 2020 when I was down at Moorepark last week.

Can I ask the Minister-----


How is the Minister of State going to change the ethos of beef and dairy farmers, in particular, to get them into the system and idea of having a percentage of the holding used in this way and what does the Minister of State deem to be a percentage of a holding that a beef or dairy farmer should be looking at? The ethos of a dairy and beef farmer and how they look at forestry, mentally more than anything else, is a significant issue. How do we change that?

That is the challenge. If we look at some of the suggestions that have come from the European Commission such as Trees for Kids, and the plant a hectare initiative, we have approximately 120,000 farmers in the country. If half of them decided to plant a hectare each, that is 60,000 ha. That could be a broadleaf or a riparian margin along a river. We have initiatives such as woodlands for water, through which we work with the Department of the Communications Climate Action and Environment to seek to protect water through the water framework directive and to stop nutrient run-off by the use of nutrient management plans. There are a range of options.

Deputy Fitzmaurice mentioned shelter. Shelter last year would been shade from the sun, not shelter from the wind. It would have been as advantageous to have had a little bit of canopy on the border to stop animals getting parched and sunburned. I am not being facetious when I say that. We need to look at that, which is part of the mindset.

No more than the woodland environment fund is corporate social responsibility. Every farmer, almost without exception, has the ability to assign some of his or her land to trees, be it commercial spruce, which will have a 15% diverse species, or be it a broadleaf coppice area - smaller areas - and feel and understand that they are getting it established and getting a premium for nothing. For others it could be forest for fibre for bio-energy.

We have a range of options there and I encourage people to promote it in a positive way. We all need to work together on this, and at the end of the day it helps us achieve what we set out to do under those three pillars, which are efficiency, displacement and sequestration, from the agriculture sector. It is the biggest single incentive we can take. It does not have to be giant steps. It can be small steps for many people. I fully accept, because it has come across a number of times, the need for Coillte, Bord na Móna, and other State agencies to come on board and to be more engaged. I accept that the record and the experience that some people had with the contracts were not very good. There was a range of different contracts. Last year, in particular, the former CEO of Coillte made a concerted effort to ensure that every single farmer that was contracted, in whatever arrangement that was in place, was contacted to see if it could be resolved.

They were anxious from a PR perspective to become good partners again. We see Coillte as being a key player in the afforestation process to get to 8,000 ha. We see scope for the likes of Bord na Móna sites and other publicly owned lands to play their part in that regard. It will be an appropriate mix. It is about having the right tree in the right place on the right land. That is what it is all about. It is not a case of one size fits all. It cannot be. Carbon sequestration value is sometimes debated. It is said that broadleaves are better than conifers, but in fact it works out roughly the same because they are evergreen. Conifers store carbon for longer every year but their rotation is quicker. They lock in carbon. The technology now allows for the brash from clear-fell to be used when it is dried to generate heat and power in dairy processing and other plants. That leaves a cleaner and more efficient area to work on for replanting. There is a lot that we can do given the range of options. We can build a bioeconomy that could displace fossil fuels across a range of areas. We need to get everybody talking in a positive way and we all need to play our part. I am not lecturing anybody, but there is a range of options. When we think trees, we do not think one species in every situation. We look at what is best for a particular area and what would work. We can improve the water quality and the aesthetics, help the environment and increase the income and value for landowners. I understand that a group will come in after me to discuss their experience with ash dieback. We are determined to address that and to learn from the mistakes that were made to improve the scheme. We need positive experiences.

Deputy McConalogue asked about the volume of timber that will be produced. By 2035 it is estimated that the Roundwood harvest will be double what it was in 2015 and virtually all of the increase will come from the private estate. In 2018, for the first time ever, the volume of timber from the private estate exceeded 1 million cu. m. That is the beginning of it. I anticipate that as the volume increases, the experience of those who have been selling timber will be positive and they will realise that it is a lucrative and valuable enterprise and that they will be happy to reinstate their land into tree plantations. Timber will become a good news story. I hope word of mouth will have a positive effect and that we will hear from the people involved.

We have some way to go. Forestry can contribute much to the rural environment, to our climate change obligations and effort and to the economies of rural areas. There are 12,000 jobs in this. We export €330 million worth of timber, in particular to the UK, which is second only to China in terms of imports of timber. That is hard to believe. We export 70% of the timber products that we produce into the UK but that only accounts for 7% of the UK's imports. It is a very important market for us and there is significant potential. Currently, we import timber from Scotland to service that market, be it for pulp or sawlogs. Our processors are not guaranteed sufficient supply indigenously, but that will improve. I hope there is a positive forecast on the value of the timber that is in many holdings throughout the country at the moment. The average hectarage is probably less than 10 ha and there are between 21,000 and 22,000 private owners in the country. I do not know if I have addressed all the questions but members can come back to me if I did not respond to their questions.

I thank the Minister of State. We have covered a lot of ground in the past few hours. I think all the members are happy. I thank the Minister of State and his officials for coming before us today and giving us an understanding of the position with forestry. The next part of the meeting concerns ash dieback.

Sitting suspended at 6.15 p.m. and resumed at 6.17 p.m.