Government policy on forestry is to increase species diversity by means of targeted supports and measures within the nationally funded afforestation programme. The current programme expires at the end of 2020. Publicly funded afforestation has been a central part of Government policy for many years now given the many benefits which forestry presents, not least for our rural economy and for the environment and climate policies.
The supports available were reviewed as part of the Mid-Term Review of the programme, which concluded in 2018. Following the review a 7% increase in grant and 5% increase in premium rates were introduced for broadleaf planting categories. Increased rates for Agro forestry and forestry for fibre categories were also introduced. In addition the minimum mandatory requirement for broadleaf planting per site was increased from 10% to 15%, with a resultant increase in the percentage planted in 2018 to 27%, up from 21% in 2017. My Department has also introduced the first ever continuous cover forestry scheme in Ireland this month as part of a suite of biodiversity related measures in order to give landowners more options when it comes to felling.
It's worth noting that all forests have an important role in climate action through the removal and storage of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and by supplying sustainable and renewable materials that support the decarbonisation of our economy. Under the Effort Sharing Regulation covering the period 2021 to 2030, Ireland has the ability to account up to 26.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide removals by the land use sector towards our emission reduction targets. Removals of greenhouse gases by afforested land are forecast to amount to 22 million tonnes of carbon dioxide over this period.
As regards Co. Leitrim, my colleague Minister Andrew Doyle announced a study last week. This evidence-based review will assess the impacts of forestry in the county, both positive and negative and will help to inform both the local community and Government policy on forestry, rural development and land use.