Friday, 6 September 2019

Questions (1399)

Michael Healy-Rae


1399. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will address a matter regarding payment for ecosystem services (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35543/19]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

A review of the Forestry Programme 2014 - 2020 was completed in February 2018 and, as part of this review, higher grant and premiums rates were introduced for broadleaf planting types. This has resulted in an increase in broadleaf planting from 21% of total planting in 2017 to 27% in 2018. Furthermore, the minimum mandatory requirement for broadleaf planting per afforestation site was increased from 10% to 15%

A number of other measures to increase biodiversity were also introduced as part of the Mid-Term Review as follows:

Continuous Cover Forestry (CCF) Scheme: This redirects plantations away from the 'normal' clear fell / reforestation model and into continuous cover forestry. Therefore, as trees are felled singly or in small groups (typically with smaller machinery) and the gaps left are planted up or fill in with natural regeneration, the overall canopy cover is left intact, protecting the soil and the woodland ecosystem. This is compared to the clearfell system where all the trees are felled in one go, with lots of machinery, potential impact on the site and the complete change in habitat from forest to open. So, the CCF Scheme is encouraging a more environmentally- (incl. biodiversity) sustainable way to manage forests for wood production, based on the ongoing realisation of small quantities of valuable stems, versus on big windfall at the end of the rotation. (However, CCF doesn't suit all sites or all investment / financial models.)

Woodland Improvement Scheme - 2nd Thinning: This scheme is focused on undertaking a silviculturally-appropriate 2nd thinning to improve the quality and value of retained trees (by removing poorer quality stems and redirecting growth onto better quality ones). However, it also has a biodiversity benefit as it opens up the canopy and allows increased levels of light infiltration onto the forest floor, encouraging ground vegetation and the scrub understory. This increases the habitat biodiversity, leading to more insects, birds, etc.

Deer Fencing Scheme: This scheme will protect the forest crop from damage from excessive browsing, including shoot damage and stem damage / bark stripping. In parallel, it will also exclude excessive grazing of other components of the woodland ecosystem, especially the ground vegetation and scrub layer, both of which can be badly denuded if deer numbers are very high. In addition excluding deer will allow the natural regeneration of trees and scrubs, as seed falling onto the site can germinate and become established, which increases the woodland biodiversity generally.

Host a Hive initiative: Native woodlands provide a rich source of pollen and nectar for the honey bee both from the trees themselves and from the wide array of woodland flowers in the ground flora and shrub layer. As a contribution towards the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan, my Department have contacted woodland owners involved with the National Woodlands Scheme (NWS) and asked if they would be interested in hosting a bee hive in their native woodland. To this end, they have been invited to contact the Federation of Irish Beekeepers' Associations (FIBKA) and the Irish Beekeepers’ Association clg (IBA clg) through their local branches. This association could allow members of these organisations to establish hives within new native woodlands planted under NWS. This initiative is also supported by the Native Irish Honeybee Society (NIHBS), which promotes the conservation and re-introduction of the native Irish honey bee throughout Ireland.

Woodland Environmental Fund (WEF): The WEF initiative provides an opportunity for businesses to partner with the Government and Irish landowners and get behind the national effort to plant an additional 5 million native trees between now and 2020. Under WEF, businesses can be associated with individual native woodlands and use the environmental benefits linked to these forests to demonstrate that they are meeting their corporate social responsibilities. The WEF ties in with the Department's existing afforestation scheme which covers 100% of the cost of establishing native woodlands and also pays an annual premium to the landowner of up to €680 per hectare payable each year for 15 years (€16,000/ha). The WEF involves an additional once off top up payment of €1,000 per hectare paid by the business to the landowner.