The planting targets under the Forestry Programme 2014-2020 are national targets and aim to establish almost 44,000 hectares of new forests during the lifetime of the programme, and there are no county or regional specific targets within the programme. The Forestry Scheme is of course a voluntary scheme for all landowners and it is a matter for them as to whether they wish to choose forestry as a land use option and avail of the grants and premiums available to support them in that enterprise.
In Leitrim, some 380 farmers have made this choice by converting parts of their farms to forestry resulting in forestry payments to them worth over €2.3m from my Department in 2017. In addition timber sales in the country were valued at €1.2m in 2017 and 565 people are employed in the forestry sector in County Leitrim which is a valuable contribution to the local economy. In fact this employment rate in the forestry sector is the highest by far of any county in Ireland. I intend to continue making this option available to other farmers in Leitrim so that they have the opportunity to avail of the scheme and complement their farm income if they so wish.
In terms of permission for the planting of forestry my Department is the designated planning authority for forestry in Ireland. Forest planning under the afforestation schemes takes account of a number of factors including local concerns, environmental guidelines and site conditions. Proposals to plant trees under this programme are subject to rigorous checks and undergo careful planning by professional foresters which must comply with the Department's requirements as set out in the Forestry Standards Manual, Scheme Documents, Code of Best Practice – Ireland and a suite of environmental guidelines including the Environmental Requirements for Afforestation and the Land Types for Afforestation. There are also a number of statutory consultees who are consulted on individual applications where relevant and these include the Environmental Protection Agency, NPWS and Inland Fisheries Ireland amongst others. I am satisfied that this planning process is fit for purpose and that it ensures that the establishment of new forests in Ireland is compatible with the protection and enhancement of our environment, particularly in relation to water, biodiversity, archaeology, soil type and the landscape.