It is indeed reassuring to see the interest young people have in climate change, the most pressing issue of their generation and one which affects all our futures. As you know this Government has declared climate change a national emergency and has put in place a roadmap for decarbonisation under the Climate Action Plan 2019. The Plan contains ambitious targets in respect of afforestation, and we will be actively working towards achieving 8,000 hectares of new planting each year.
Native woodlands are an important component of our planting programme and my Department operates a package of measures under the Forestry Programme 2014-2020 aimed specifically at promoting the proactive protection and expansion of Ireland’s native woodland resource. I specifically increased the payments under a Mid-Term Review of the Forestry Programme in order to encourage planting, and the grant now available for Native Woodland Establishment is €5,620 per hectare with land owners receiving an annual premium of €665/ha or if over 10 hectares, €680/ha for 15 years.
In order to further encourage the planting of native woodlands, my Department has launched a Woodland Environmental Fund (WEF) initiative. This provides an opportunity for businesses to partner with the Department in supporting new planting. The WEF involves an additional once-off top up payment of €1,000 per hectare paid by the business to the landowner. There has been a positive reaction from the business community to this scheme, with An Post and Accenture already signed up and other businesses submitting formal expressions of interest in participating in the scheme. At a recent event to promote the WEF, there was substantial interest amongst businesses in attendance in investing in the Fund.
Furthermore, my colleague Richard Bruton TD, Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment and I recently announced that Coillte Nature and Bord na Móna are collaborating on a new project which will see bogs that are no longer being used for peat production transformed into rich native woodlands. Following on from this, we plan to actively engage with other public bodies in the near future to encourage them to identify possibilities within their land bank for the establishment of native woodlands.
Promotion of woodlands and all their benefits is really important which is why in January of this year, my Department advertised a ‘Call for Proposals for Forestry Promotion’ for the two years 2019 – 2020. This was a public call open to all and was aimed at encouraging initiatives under three categories; promoting the multifunctional benefits of forestry, promoting the planting of trees and forest management promotion. The response to the call was impressive, with 15 projects at a cost of nearly €1m chosen.
I am very pleased that a number of the successful projects are aimed at both primary and secondary school children, as there is enormous value in educating children on the benefits of forestry. These projects seek to raise awareness of the essential place of forests in their lives, through innovative learning activities and workshops, which include taking children out of the classroom and into local forests to learn about nature and trees.
My Department expects to advertise a similar “Call for Proposals” in 2020, and this will provide an opportunity for new proposals to be submitted for consideration, such as "foraois na bpáistí".