That a sum not exceeding £1,255,800 be granted to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1957, for Salaries and Expenses in connection with Forestry (No. 13 of 1946), including a Grant-in-Aid for Acquisition of Land.
The net Estimate for Forestry for 1956-57 at £1,822,800 shows an increase of £256,096 over the Estimate for 1955-56. On the Appropriations-in-Aid sub-head (sub-head H) there is an increase of £77,954, so that the increase in the gross Estimate is £334,050.
Sub-head A shows an increase of £64,558 for Salaries, Wages and Allowances. This is partly accounted for by the general revision of Civil Service remuneration but in the main it is to provide for additional administrative and technical staffs to enable the Forestry Division to cope with its constantly increasing volume of work.
Sub-head B, Travelling Expenses, shows an increase of £4,000 to cover the travelling expenses of an enlarged outdoor staff.
Leaving aside for the moment the main operational sub-heads C (1), C (2) and C (3), I will now deal with sub-head D, under which grants for afforestation purposes are made available to private persons and public bodies. Expenditure under this sub-head last year was slightly in excess of the Estimate. The number of first instalments of grants paid during the year was 56 involving 451 acres of new plantations, compared with 442 acres in 1954-55 and 360 acres in 1953-54.
Provision for forestry training centres under sub-head E (1) shows an increase of £3,662 over last year. This is due to increased management costs at Avondale and Kinnitty Castle centres and to the need for extra provision in connection with the management of the new centre at Shelton Abbey. It will be noted that the Estimate makes provisions for a full year for Avondale school, but, in fact, it is expected that the school will be finally closed in the very near future when the new centre at Shelton Abbey is opened. The bulk sum provided under the head of "additional expenditure" for Shelton Abbey, therefore, covers only the costs for the running of Shelton up to the end of the current year in so far as they exceed the expenses shown for Avondale school.
Under sub-head E (2) provision is made for expenditure on the staging of educational exhibits at the R.D.S. Spring Show and at various provincial shows.
Provision under sub-head F—Agency Advisory and Special Services—is being retained at £100.
The increase of £300 under sub-head G—Incidental Expenses—reflects the all-round increase in forestry activities and does not call for any comment.
Turning now to the main operational sub-heads, I will deal first with sub-head C (1) which provides the funds for the acquisition of land for Forestry purposes. This sub-head is of Grant-in-Aid character which means that unspent balances are not surrendered to the Exchequer at the end of the year. Last year's provision under the sub-head was £75,000 but as I pointed out when introducing the Estimate last year the unspent balance in the Grant-in-Aid fund on the 31st March, 1955 stood at the unprecedentedly high figure of £95,700 which with last year's provision made a total sum of almost £171,000 available in the fund for the acquisition of land at the commencement of 1955-56.
The total area acquired during 1955-56 was 18,248 acres, compared with 17,513 acres in the preceding year. At 31st March, 1956, sales had been closed and possession was pending in respect of 24 acres totalling 2,504 acres. Price offers had been accepted and all that remained was to dispose of the legal formalities in the case of 336 areas totalling 27,502 acres. Negotiations on price were in hands or pending in connection with 1,477 blocks of land totalling 115,907 acres and preliminary investigations of a further 1,700 offers totalling 146,000 acres were under way. These figures, covering a total of 3,500 areas comprising 292,000 acres in course of, or under consideration for, acquisition at 31st March, 1956, give a definite prospect of an appreciable rise in the rate of acquisition.
On the financial side, the increased activity in acquisition last year resulted in the expenditure of over £107,000 out of sub-head C (1), leaving approximately £64,000 in the Grant-in-Aid Fund at the end of the year. This year's provision of £110,000 will provide adequate funds to finance more rapid acquisition progress in the current year.
Despite the increase in the planting programme last year, the plantable reserve as at 31st March, 1956, stood at 49,049 acres, compared with 47,260 in March, 1955, and 45,156 acres in March, 1954.
To deal now with sub-head C (2), Forest Development and Maintenance, and sub-head C (3) (1), Timber Conversion in State Forests, which between them bear the field costs in forest development and management, Deputies will find that the aggregate provision of £1,629,630 shows an increase of £219,680 over the Estimate for 1955-56. Of this increase, £183,000 relates to the Labour heads in these sub-heads and £36,680 is the net addition to the non-labour items.
To dispose first of the non-labour items, there is increased provision for cartage and freight costs in the Capital, Constructional, Maintenance and Timber Conversion sub-heads. These increases are linked with the expansion in the programmes for road construction, planting and thinning to which I will refer later and with the normal expansion that is to be expected in the maintenance programme.
There is also an increase under the Capital Expenditure head of sub-head C (2) for expenditure on the construction and purchase of houses for foresters.
As I have indicated, however, the main portion of sub-heads C (2) and C (3) (1) will be devoted to labour requirements and it is on the labour heads in the sub-heads that the real increase occurs. The extra £183,000 required for labour is in part intended to meet the higher wage levels now obtaining but it is primarily due to the increased volume of work which will be undertaken in the current year over virtually the whole range of forestry activities. In the first ten weeks of this year an average number of 5,149 men were employed on forestry work, compared with an average of 4,373 men in the corresponding period last year. The aggregate provision of £1,370,000 should enable labour staffs to be increased at peak this year to over 5,500 but an increase in wage-levels beyond that contemplated when the Estimate was framed may give rise to need for a Supplementary Estimate later in the year.
The only individual labour provision which shows a decrease is that for nurseries which is down by £11,000 as compared with 1955-56. This saving is to a large extent due to introduction of new methods of weed control.
Provision is being made under the Capital and Constructional Expenditure heads for an increase in the planting programme to 17,500 acres.
Mention of planting activity and the increase in our area of plantations brings me to the subject of forest fires. The weather in the spring and early summer of this year was the worst possible from the point of view of fire danger and the foresters and their staffs had a most anxious and a trying time. In the first half of this year, no less than 338 fires occurred at or near State forests, and of these 44 fires actually caused damage estimated at a total of over £5,000. The damage, regrettable though it is, is nothing compared with what might have been sustained, were it not for the vigilance of the foresters and fire-watchers, and I must pay tribute also to the invaluable co-operation and assistance which is afforded to my Department by the Gardaí, the local fire brigades and the Army in detecting and controlling these outbreaks.
Many of these fires are caused by farmers in burning rough grazing and by turf workers in cleaning spread-ground, but the vast majority of them are started by some act of carelessness on the part of a passer-by in casually throwing away a lighted match or cigarette-end, or by picnic-makers who fail to extinguish thoroughly their picnic fires. Prosecutions under the Forestry Act, 1946, are taken whenever the offenders can be detected, but the most effective remedy against deliberate burning of carelessness of the kind I have mentioned is believed to be the education of the public to a constant wachfulness against such danger and a realisation of the destruction which can be caused to their property by a forest fire. The Department is doing all it can to foster this outlook amongst the public by means of Press advertisements, radio announcements and other forms of publicity. But if greater carefulness is not shown by the public, I will have to ask the Government to introduce legislation providing for the more drastic punishment of offenders.
Returning again to the Estimate, under the Capital Expenditure head there is a substantial increase in the provision for the construction of new forest roads. As more plantations reach the thinning stage, this work becomes increasingly important. Last year the Forestry Division dealt with 118 miles of new road, compared with 90 miles in 1954-55 and 66 miles in 1953-54. I am providing for a further increase in the volume of such work in the current year. The divisions tractor fleet was recently increased to enable it to deal more expeditiously with road work and provision for labour is being increased to £161,000, compared with £125,000 in 1955-56.
The provision for labour under the Maintenance head is £482,000 as against £427,000 for 1955-56. The increase is partly due to higher wage rates but it is mainly attributable to the expansion in the volume of work as the area under forest increases and it does not call for any special comment.
The labour provision under sub-head C (3) (1), Timber Conversion in State Forests, covers the cost of thinning plantations and the felling of mature timber. The proposed provision for the current year is £232,000, compared with £170,000 for 1955-56. In 1955-56, almost 11,000 acres were thinned. The target for the current year is 13,000 acres. This, together with the increase in wage rates, explains the increase in the provision for labour under this head.
In sub-head C (3) (2), Sawmilling, which relates to the Department's sawmills at Dundrum and Cong, there is also an increase in the provision for labour, due mainly to increased wage-rates which have operated since last December. An increase under the head of Equipment provides for the installation of fire-fighting appliances at both sawmills.
Sub-head H—Appropriations-in-Aid —at £243,204, allows for an increase of £77,954 over last year's figure. Taking the individual items, there is an increase of £5,000 in the allowance for receipts from the sale of miscellaneous materials, which allows for certain revenue from the sale of some plants surplus to requirements in certain species in the State nurseries last spring and an increase of £2,500 in the sawmills figure, reflecting the attainment of full operation at Cong sawmill. The bulk of the increase is, however, by way of allowance for extra receipts from the sale of timber in the forests.
The figure for sales of timber, at £200,000 is an increase of 55 per cent. over the figure in last year's Estimate. Actual receipts last year totalled approximately £180,000 against an Estimate allowance of £130,000 and it would not be unreasonably optimistic to expect a similar excess of actual receipts over Estimate allowance in the current year. In the first quarter of the year, receipts amounted to £65,000 and the gross figure for the year may well prove to be of the order of £250,000. The Estimate as it stands does not allow for receipts of such a high order partly because the extent to which it would be possible to increase revenue was not fully apparent when the Estimate was being prepared and partly, of course, because in such an Estimate prudence requires a conservative allowance on the revenue side.
Thinning operations are being steadily expanded and continuance of that expansion is necessary to the proper development of the plantations. Much attention is being devoted to market extension to take up the increased output from thinning and this, together with the Department's efforts to secure more attractive prices for thinning produce is reflected in the increased revenue. Since last year, the entry of the Clondalkin Paper Mills into the manufacture of pulp has opened an additional market and it has been possible to bring about some revival of the pit-prop trade which fell off considerably for a number of years previously. The position is still, however, that the output of thinning produce is in excess of demand. Until output and demand can be brought to a happy relationship the market must still be shaky. I am giving much attention to this whole question at the moment. In the meantime, it is at least very gratifying that probable receipts for this year at £250,000, will give an increase of 40 per cent. over last year's total and 75 per cent. over the previous year.
To pass now from the detailed provisions of the Estimate before the House, let me say that there is scarcely any aspect of Irish national endeavour on which there is such universal agreement on all sides of the House as there is on the basic issue of the desirability of a continuing afforestation drive. There has been a great deal of confusion, however, in regard to the optimum rate of development—confusion resulting largely from the difficulties experienced by Deputies in grasping all the complexities of a large-scale afforestation project and the factors which must govern its ultimate objectives and the tempo at which it can develop. It is my hope that in this debate I shall be able to give every member of the House a clearer picture of the essentials which must govern our national forest policy. If the debate can further be made the vehicle for a well-considered endorsement by the whole House of the forestry policy of the Government, a permanent gain will have been achieved. The gain will lie in the help that such an expression of conviction will give to the Government, the Minister for Lands and his Department in pushing ahead with the forest development programme on a long-term basis.
Before considering to-day's position or to-morrow's possibilities, I should like to go back briefly over past history. The story of Ireland's deforestation is well known. The havoc of invasions, wars and wartime needs over the centuries was supplemented by the dire effects of the landlord and tenant system prior to the enactment of the Land Purchase Acts. Unfortunately, those Acts, while rectifying the agrarian social evils of the land tenure system, dealt a final blow to Ireland's forests by handing over ownership of most of the remaining woods to small farm proprietors who lacked both the resources and the incentive to preserve the timber. The result, as we all learned in our schooldays, was to bring Ireland by the beginning of the present century into the unenviable situation of being the least wooded country in Europe. The first faltering steps to rectify that situation were taken 52 years ago with the formation of a State forest service. Progress since, by way of State afforestation, may be summarised in main periods as follows: 1904-1922, an average annual planting of 180 acres; 1922-1934, an average annual planting of slightly less than 3,000 acres; 1934-1950, an average annual planting of slightly under 7,000 acres (with an interim eight year drop to an average of about 4,700 acres during the war period); 1950-56, an average annual planting of 13,500 acres.
The first period of 18 years was one in which little result in terms of actual planting was achieved — appallingly little when it is remembered that in that period the first World War made further inroads into our woods. The plantings undertaken during this period were on a purely pilot scale and the total area planted amounted to little more than 3,000 acres. The real value of these early plantations lay in the experience that was gained — and is still being gained—as to the behaviour of particular species and mixtures of species under varying conditions. Viewed as a practical research undertaking, this small-scale planting prior to 1922 was of significant worth because it was initiated at a time when deliberate afforestation for timber production as distinct from tree planting for geo-physical reasons — prevention of erosion, torrent control and so on—was in its infancy and no country in the world had any exact knowledge of the economic aspects of deliberate tree cultivation. This early planting, however, made no significant contribution towards the forest resources of the country.
During the second period—the first 12 years of native Government—Irish forestry emerged from the pilot planting stage with a rapid increase in the first three years from an annual planting rate of 500 acres to 2,000 acres and a steady gain in momentum thereafter until a figure of over 4,000 acres was reached in 1933-34. Much of the planting was still perforce of an experimental nature and the forestry service was gradually being developed on lines attuned to large-scale planting activities. Looking back now, it is easy to be critical of the fact that more was not accomplished in this period, but studying the records of the period in my Department it is quite clear that the whole project was still too young to have undertaken more than it did.
The third period—the eight effective years from 1934 to 1950, discounting the war years—commenced with the transfer of forestry to the Department of Lands. Its beginning was marked by the settlement of an annual planting target of 10,000 acres. The actual annual achievement was stepped up to 7,600 acres by the commencement of the war and this level was again attained by 1948-49. Again, one is tempted to be critical of the inadequacy of the target and of the failure to reach even that target but let us look at the facts dispassionately. In the pre-war years it was impossible to foresee the timber-hungry conditions which would beset the post-war world or the remarkable development of pulp markets for thinning produce. Prior to the war, it was quite understandable for a Government to pursue such a limited afforestation policy as the annual target of 10,000 acres then envisaged. It is true that the envisaged target was not reached but so far as my knowledge goes, every country in the world which sets itself an afforestation target takes a long time to bring performance into line with the target. That is true even of countries with large existing forest areas and the concomitant availability of existing organisation, trained personnel and other resources. Acceleration of a forestry planting rate involves cumulative expansion of work on several different fronts, apart altogether from the problem of getting the requisite land. First of all, nursery resources have to be built up —a big task in itself. Then the actual stepping-up of planting involves a bigger and bigger task with each year's increase in performance. Most significant of all, each year's planting adds another block of forest to the total area to be maintained. Viewed thus, an increase in the annual planting rate from 4,000 acres in 1933-34 to 7,600 acres in 1938-39 was a solid, if not spectacular, achievement and one I would hesitate to criticise. I do feel that it is a pity, however, that consideration was not given to the impact of the war's effects on the post-war timber position immediately after, and indeed during, the war period. At that stage, it should have been evident that the pre-war target of 10,000 acres was no longer realistic and advance planning might profitably have been initiated on a much enlarged post-war forestry target. Nothing was done on this score, however, until the first inter-Party Government took office in 1948.
The new Government addressed itself to a review of forestry policy as a matter of great urgency and only nine months after taking office a firm announcement of a new and much more vigorous State afforestation policy was made. That announcement, in a White Paper on post-war planning dated 20th December, 1948, declared the intention to step up the annual planting rate to 25,000 acres which would ultimately provide 1,000,000 acres of productive State forest. It was obvious that, just as the pre-war target of 10,000 acres had to be approached gradually, so too it would inevitably take time to gear the machine to the new 25,000 acres target. There was indeed little ground for optimism as to the rapid attainment of the new annual target. The plantable reserve in hands stood at only 30,000 acres despite the restrictions imposed on planting during the war years by lack of seed and fencing materials and the average annual rate of acquisition of plantable land over the previous five years had been only 4,000 acres; the acquisition prospect for 1948-49 itself was only about 3,500 acres. Planting in 1947-48 had covered only 6,000 acres and the programme for 1948-49 was but the restoration of the pre-war peak of 7,500 acres. Plant supplies in the nurseries were not sufficient for any significant increase in planting and the nursery areas themselves were not adequate to meet a sharp production increase, even if seed could be obtained. Nor was the staff and organisation of the Forestry Service capable of overnight expansion and adjustment to meet the needs of the new programme. It was out of the question to secure immediately a notable increase in the planting rate itself but plans were formulated and put into operation to enable the rate to be expanded as rapidly as possible.
The first problem was to get the land. A progressive increase in the inspectorate staff engaged on land acquisition was undertaken. A flying survey of potential forest land in the country was made as a matter of top priority to delineate the areas in which concentrated efforts to acquire land would have most prospect of success. The ceiling price payable for forestry land was doubled. Increased Land Commission co-operation was secured in arranging the transfer of marginal land to the Forestry Division. Even with all these steps there was little prospect of attaining and continuing an annual planting of as high an order as 25,000 acres unless land of a quality and nature formerly treated as incapable of economic afforestation could be made to produce tree crops at a reasonable cost by the use of heavy machinery developed during and after the war. Steps were taken to secure an experimental start in this field of work.
These various unified efforts brought the rate of acquisition of plantable land up from 3,500 acres in 1948-49 to 6,700 acres in 1949-50, 10,900 acres in 1950-51 and 15,700 acres in 1951-52—an increase to fivefold in four years.
Meanwhile steps were taken to locate and acquire land suitable for use as additional nursery areas. The main work on this front was brought to fruition in 1950-51 when the total nursery area was increased to 577 acres as compared with 367 acres in the previous year.
There were staff expansion problems to be tackled. The most urgent was the provision of an enlarged force of foresters for immediate direction of field work. The basic training of a forester takes three years and he needs some years' further practical experience before he can be placed in full charge of a forest. An enlarged intake of trainees could not, therefore, be of practical help for about five years and, to make matters worse, the training school at Avondale was not capable of housing an enlarged intake. Emergency training schedules were devised to operate until a new training establishment could be set up and the annual intake of trainees was increased by 100 per cent. in 1950. The difficulties of operating emergency training arrangements have militated against a regular annual intake of trainees at the increased rate and it will be some years yet before the availability of fully trained foresters settles down to a regular annual rhythm at the enlarged rate.
I have mentioned but a few of the separate but integrated programmes which had to be launched to develop the resources which would enable the much enlarged afforestation objective sponsored by the first inter-Party Government to be achieved. These few alone, however, suffice to show that in afforestation, just as in any other big production enterprise, years of patient building and organisation are needed to convert blueprints into active reality.
With that axiom established, let us take a look at what progress has been made since 1948, in terms of actual planting, towards fulfilling the new policy decision. The planting programme was increased in 1948-49 to about 7,500 acres as against 6,000 acres in the previous year and it was maintained at the higher figure in 1949-50 but the first real fruits of the inter-Party Government's policy were evident only in 1950-51 when 9,400 acres were planted—an increase of 2,000 acres on the previous year and by far the highest accomplishment for any single year up to that. The following year was marked by even more striking results. Fifteen thousand acres were planted—an increase of 50 per cent. on the previous year, twice the best record for a single year while the old target prevailed and over two and a half times the average annual accomplishment under the old target. That was tremendous progress and, had it been possible to keep it up, attainment of the objective of an annual planting of 25,000 acres would not have been far off.
The following year the planting programme was, however, reduced to 12,500 acres. There it stayed until 1954-55 when it was again increased, but only to 13,500 acres. In 1955-56 it rose again and once more 15,000 acres were planted. As I have already said, the present year will be marked by an advance to 17,500 acres and further rapid progress is contemplated.
It would be easy for me to make political capital out of the regression in planting in 1952-53 and the lack of further upward progress until the inter-Party Government again came into office. I would be dishonest to do so and I have no such intention. I feel that, in this matter of forestry, all Parties in the House can unite in furtherance of a common objective and I want to give full credit to the present Opposition for the part they played during their last period in office. First, credit is due to them for allowing the planting of 15,000 acres to proceed in 1951-52. That programme was one and a half times the maximum target envisaged by their forestry policy when previously in office. Their acceptance of the more vigorous policy which had been inaugurated by the inter-Party Government was, I say again, to their credit. Nor should criticism of the cut in the programme to 12,500 acres in 1952-53 and the lack of any further upward progress in planting until they left office in 1954 fail to take account of the extent to which reduction in the planting rate was the result of difficulties, the nature or extent of which had not previously emerged.
The most immediate difficulty was not directly related to the new planting target. I refer to the increasing management needs of the existing State forest plantations. When a new plantation is laid down, it gives rise to quite a considerable volume of maintenance work for a few years—control of competing vegetation, replacement of failures, repairs to fences and drains, and so on. For about ten to 15 years after that, it requires little more than caretaking. Then intensive silvicultural work has to be undertaken in pruning, cutting out poor and misshapen trees and regular thinning thereafter; much road construction work must also be undertaken when this stage is reached to enable thinnings to be extracted and sold. Now, Deputies will remember that, in summarising the past history of State forestry in main periods, I described the period 1922-1934 as one of gradual growth with an average annual planting of less than 3,000 acres, the next period—commencing 1934—being one of comparatively rapid increase in planting with an average annual planting of 7,000 acres. This upward trend of pre-war planting faced the forestry service with a fast-growing problem of first thinning and road construction in the early 1950's, coupled with a more gradual increase in requirements by way of repeat thinnings of the pre-1934 plantations. If this work was to be given priority—and it was essential that it should be—its impact on the forestry service left less resilience to meet large-scale fresh planting pending strengthening and expansion of the man-power and other resources of the service. In some forests indeed, the conflict of demands for treatment of old stands and erection of new ones was evident even in labour supply problems; in Glenmalure, for example, rapid progress with planting against a large reserve of plantable land would have drawn off labour from urgent thinning and road construction work.
The inevitability of the extent to which the concession of priority to the silvicultural treatment of older plantations influenced the rate of fresh afforestation may be more easily grasped if I quote actual figures of this increase in management work. In 1950-51, 4,000 acres were thinned compared with an annual average of 3,200 acres over the previous three years. The figures thenceforward were:— 1951-52, 5,400 acres; 1952-53, 7,700 acres; 1953-54, 8,700 acres; 1954-55, 9,300 acres; 1955-56, 11,000 acres.
In the current year, 13,000 acres will be thinned. The cubic measurement of poles removed rose from 1,000,000 cubic feet in 1950-51 to 3,250,000 cubic feet in 1955-56. These figures exclude pruning and light initial thinning by way of removal of stunted ill-formed saplings; that work shows a concurrent increase—the area handled in 1955-56 being 15,000 acres. The expansion of road construction to facilitate extraction of thinnings is most easily studied on labour and cartage expenditure figures; aggregate expenditure on these heads in 1955-56 was approximately £150,000 compared with £18,000 in 1950-51. It would have been physically impossible to make spectacular progress with fresh planting during a period of such rapid development of thinning and allied work and that alone was an ample justification for the regression in planting in 1952-53 and the slowness of the renewed upward trend since 1954-55. The meteoric jump in thinning needs is now flattening off, much progress has been made with related problems, such as development of marketing organisation, and the Forestry Service can face a more rapid future expansion of planting without detriment to the needs of the older plantations.
Apart from the impact of this whole question of thinning needs, it became apparent by 1952-53 that the rapid climb in the planting rate from the 6,000 acres figure of 1947-48 was giving rise to a volumetric increase in immediate after-care work—notably the control of competing vegetation and the replacement of failures—which could only be met if the rate of planting were temporarily slowed. The competition of natural vegetation is a problem for the first two to three years (longer in some ground conditions) and the progressive rise in planting had increased the total areas of young plantations in need of cleaning to almost threefold. The increased demand for plants for replacement of failures inevitably reduced the extent to which a nursery production programme could be stretched to meet immediate new planting on a scale not covered by sowing in earlier years. This plant supply factor was further complicated by unsatisfactory results in some areas in which seedling contorta pine were used in 1951-52 on mechanically-prepared ground; reluctance to continue general use of seedlings on such ground involved a recasting of immediate nursery potential.
To show up even more clearly the extent to which work other than actual planting has grown since 1951-1952, I have had the expenditure on forest labour (including nursery labour) analysed for the two years 1951-52 and 1955-56. In each of these years, 15,000 acres were planted. In 1951-52, labour devoted to existing plantations was 90 per cent. of that devoted to fresh planting and nursery work. In 1955-56 the corresponding ratio was 160 per cent. In other words, in again reaching a planting figure of 15,000 acres last year, the Forestry Service has done so despite a tremendous growth of work in the interim in the existing plantations. Last year's accomplishment in the field of forestry as a whole was a far more notable achievement than what I have already described as the striking achievement of 1951-52. It augurs well for the future. In presenting this picture of the maintenance and care of existing plantations I am anxious to bring home to the House and to the public the fact that forestry consists of a great deal more than planting young trees on virgin ground. It would be a criminal waste of public property and the taxpayers' money not to be scrupulously careful of our forests in the growing stage so as to ensure that thinnings are utilised to bring in the last penny and that the ultimate mature forest will be a stand of the best and straightest trees with the maximum cubic footage per acre of first-class timber.
There were still other factors, however, which influenced the rate of new afforestation during the past four years and which require careful study in relation to the future. I refer to the problem of acquiring sufficient land and the related question of how far we can go in the successful exploitation of waste lands for forestry purposes. In the past few years, the intake of plantable land has been maintained at a fairly steady figure averaging 16,500 acres, including an average of about 3,000 acres of sub-marginal land the economic use for which for forestry purposes is still open to some doubt. Even the maintenance of this level of acquisition has involved increasing difficulty. The F.A.O. forestry authorities in a survey of European forestry policies and progress some years ago recognised the problem of acquiring suitable land for afforestation as a special difficulty of this country and of Great Britain; there is no need to tell the House that it is a greater problem by far here than in Britain.
The building up of blocks of land suitable for forestry purposes by negotiation is a herculean task because of the present ownership pattern. Mr. Roy Cameron of F.A.O., in the report on his forestry mission here, commented on this quoting in support of his comment the average plantable area per acquisition up to 1950 which was 180 acres. Analysis of figures for more recent years shows that the average in the three-year period 1950-53 was only 104 acres and in the three-year period 1953-56 it had fallen to 71 acres.
Unless, therefore, resort were had to ruthless compulsory acquisition, purchase of sufficient land to maintain a large scale planting programme must continue to be fraught with great and increasing difficulty. More and more effort is being devoted to this aspect of the Forestry Division's work and there is ground for hoping that in the current year an increased aggregate area will be taken over. The new Forestry Act will, of course, contribute to easement of the problem; statutory regulations thereunder are at present being framed and in the meantime initial work on likely cases is in hands. At best it will be late in the year before the first cases under the new Act come to fruition and the Act will not materially assist the acquisition rate until next year.
If, however, the rate of planting is to be further stepped up as I propose, the rate of acquisition must rise even more sharply so that the plantable reserve, now 49,000 acres, may be maintained in proper minimum ratio to the planting rate. I cannot guarantee that such an increased intake of land will prove practicable. My Department will do its best and at this stage I, and the Government, believe we should plan for the future on the assumption that sufficient land can and will be acquired.
In the long term, the correctness or otherwise of this assumption will depend on the extent to which our present experimental work on poor peat soils proves successful. If that work should prove successful, a much greater annual intake of land should readily be practicable. Failure of the experimental work would, conversely, have a depressing effect on acquisition, since a fairly steady proportion of such land is at present being acquired for continuance of the experimental planting. In that event, a regular planting programme of 25,000 acres could only be maintained if practically all of the land included as potential forest land in the Plantable Land Survey of 1949 could be confirmed as plantable on closer inspection and could be acquired at an adequate rate over the years.
To base a firm, long-term programme entirely on such assumptions would be unwise. Although efforts were made to exclude land of doubtful plantability from the survey, some of the land included has, in fact, been found on fuller inspection to be unplantable; how big a reduction factor should be applied on this score to the total of 1,200,000 acres returned by the survey is open to conjecture. Nor is here any reasonable prospect that all of the plantable land could be acquired or that its acquisition could be brought about at an even tempo without recourse to compulsion. Every acre of that land has an owner and, so long as the owners have the right to sell or retain their property at will, many of them will refuse to sell and their successors in title will go on refusing to sell. In such circumstances it is anybody's guess how much of the land covered by the plantable land survey will ultimately come into the ownership of the forestry service. Prudence would not suggest an assumption that most of it can, and will, be brought under forest crops within 50 years.
Even if some ephemeral circumstance of agricultural economy should make progress with the acquisition of such land easier for a number of years, it would be bad policy to plant it up at an annual rate of 25,000 acres in the absence of reasonable hope of long-term maintenance of that rate. At the worst, such prodigality could lead to a period when planting might have to cease entirely; at best it would involve the virtual certainty of a sharp fall in the planting rate at a later stage. Either result would be a violation of one of the axioms of good forestry. A sound forest plan is one which seeks to approach closely the millennium of a balanced forest made up of plantations of every age within the rotation in standard proportions. That way, a fixed annual yield of timber of various sizes can be secured and full markets can be developed on the basis of certain long-term supply.
Forest management itself is facilitated in the process and employment is maintained at a steady level. That axiom is not seriously violated by short spasmodic variations in planting, provided they are moderate and not too frequent. The organisation and economics of forest management suffer from such variations but ultimate cropping can be brought in line with a calculated norm by adjustments of the rotation period. A steady planting of 25,000 acres for 25 years and a drop thereafter to, say, 12,500 acres would, however, be a serious violation of the principle.
Nor would prodigality of this type be socially desirable. For the sake of rapid planting but not good forestry, there would be an over-accelerated transference of land from uneconomic agricultural usage to forest cropping. The immediate effect might well be a serious blow to local social well-being since the forest development which would ultimately increase the level of employment could not, in its early stages, be expected to absorb the full diversion of manpower from agricultural pursuits. It may be of interest in this connection to quote the following comment which I came across recently in an official statement relating to progress of afforestation in Italy:—
"These bare areas usually consist of waste open grazing land and, to a lesser extent, land that comes occasionally under shifting cultivation. Whatever the extent of such land, it is, of course, impossible to afforest it entirely without upsetting the social and economic situation. A change over of crops of this kind takes time and requires concurrent improvement in the other agricultural production sectors, so that the local population may be assured of a better, or, at least, equal livelihood from the smaller cropland."
Our situation differs in some respects but the broad principle is equally applicable here. This principle is one which the Irish Forest Service tries hard to honour and its constant aim is to seek, within the dictates of overall policy, to build up forest activity in each area at a steady rate which will avoid temporary employment vacua and enable the forest staffs to be given quasi-permanent work. The rarity of complaints that afforestation is upsetting rather than aiding local employment is the measure of the success of this policy.
The key to our permanent future planting rate is, therefore, as I have stressed on other occasions in speaking in the House, the success or otherwise of experimental planting on poor soils. That work was initiated on a very small scale in 1950-51 but large-scale experimental work had to be delayed until contracts for the purchase of heavy equipment were fulfilled in 1951-52. The work has gone ahead steadily since then and has been extended into even poorer site-types than were attempted in the first year, and as I informed the House last autumn on the Forestry Bill debate, so far the results of experimentation are satisfactory but the danger-period during which a serious check on growth could occur has not yet passed even in the 1950-51 and 1951-52 planting areas. Our forestry service is, in fact, very much in advance of the forest authorities in most countries in this work, and we face the risks inherent in pioneering. I, myself, have seen instances of quite striking growth on some of these areas but there is still danger that, in the constant extension of the root-systems of the young trees, they may reach a point at which excessive water or lack of nutriment will bring growth to an end, as happened years ago in attempts to grow forest crops on areas affected by hard mineral pans without the use of heavy machinery to break up the pans.
The danger of total failure is receding and unless there is total failure, without any hope of still further technological advances to enable renewed attempts to be made, the work will go on. Even if it should prove impossible to develop crops to sawlog size on some of these areas, continuance of afforestation on the site types concerned could well be justified economically if there were fair prospect of production of reasonable quantities of pulpwood on a short-term rotation. In such a situation, the social advantages to be derived from extensive afforestation in the western districts where the problems of employment and emigration are most pressing, would, of course, be a powerful additional argument in favour of continuance of the project. I, personally, believe that with the methods now at our disposal, the experimentation on which we are engaged will be a success but I share the view of the experts that extension of this work should be gradual so as to permit a constant ploughing back of the experience which is being steadily accumulated and I, and the Government, must, in prudence, delay a binding decision as to ultimate future policy in relation to the afforestation of such land until more positive results are available.
Until that issue can be decided, the wider question as to what our permanent overall planting rate should be must also remain open to some question. The more immediate question of what we should undertake over the next few years is fortunately less difficult. The policy of appreciable annual acceleration of our planting rate towards a target of 25,000 acres can be continued without violation of the principle of good forest planning which I enunciated earlier and, in so far as continuing extension of the overall planting rate involves a like expansion in the experimental work on poor planting grounds, such a policy is a rational recognition of our increasing knowledge in that sphere and confidence in the future.
The comparative data I have given in relation to 1951-52 and 1955-56 when planting programmes of like extent— 15,000 acres—were carried out but with a huge increase in the volume of other work in the later year, is evidence that the forestry service is in a position to push ahead with the expansion of planting at an even more rapid rate than has obtained over the past two years whilst continuing to devote the necessary increasing attention to the existing plantations. A service which has in five years undertaken the planting of 70,000 acres—exactly half of the accomplishment of the previous 45 years—simultaneously with an equally astronomical development of other work, can, with confidence, face appreciable further growth in its undertakings. I am, therefore, in a position to tell the House that not merely is it the intention to increase the planting rate this year by 2,500 acres to 17,500 acres, but that each succeeding year will be marked by a similar big increase until the 1948 target of 25,000 acres is reached. The planting rates for the individual years will be:— 1956-57, 17,500 acres; 1957-58, 20,000 acres; 1958-59, 22,500 acres, and in 1959-60 the objective of 25,000 acres will be realised. By then, much more information will have been gained in regard to the experimental planting of poor site-types and policy thenceforward can profitably be reviewed at that stage in relation to the degree of success of the experimental work and with full regard to the social and economic factors then present.
The attainment of a planting programme of as much as 25,000 acres within 11 years of the fixation of that target, for an organisation which was then geared to the planting of only 6,000-7,000 acres a year, and despite a huge increase in other work in the interval, will be a tremendous achievement. That much will be obvious to any member of this House with knowledge of the problems of large-scale organisation. But only the few Deputies in the House who have particular knowledge of the complexity of large-scale forest management can fully appreciate quite how great will be the achievement. Even as it stands to-day, the Forestry Service is handling a very big job of work. Apart altogether from the management of 58 nurseries, with an aggregate of about 600 acres and an output last year of over 26,000,000 plants, and ignoring all the problems of acquiring several hundred different properties capable of being welded into forest blocks each year and leaving aside, too, the operation of the Department's sawmills, the preparation, fencing, draining and planting of an aggregate of even 15,000 acres in a single year and the annual addition of such an area to the gross total of intensive forest for subsequent management is no small task.
Even if each year's planting were in one big block—a block ten times the size of the Phoenix Park—it would be a big undertaking. In fact, however, each year's planting must be the product of careful planning and integration of several hundred separate planting projects scattered over the country and fitted into the overall pattern of other forest work so as to provide the optimum contribution towards local stabilisation of employment. On the management side, the Department is now responsible for no less than 1,500 distinct and separate forest properties organised for administrative convenience in groups styled "forests" which alone number 170.
On the employment side, forestry is making an ever increasing contribution towards national well-being. Whereas in 1949-50 the average number in the direct employment of the Forestry Division, excluding headquarters and supervisory staffs and excluding also persons engaged in haulage, was not much over 2,000, the average last year was 4,850. This year it will be 5,250 and the planting of 25,000 acres in 1959-60 will give employment to 8,000 men. A more rapid rise thereafter is possible. If figures of indirect employment, that is, employment given by purchasers and users of timber, were available, an even more striking rise would be shown in consequence of the sharp increase in thinning activity.
It is notable too that this overall increase in employment comprehends, in particular, a steady increase in the congested counties in the West where the employment problem is most acute and that forestry employment in these areas will, over the coming years, rise more rapidly than in the remainder of the country.
On this score, the Government has no hesitation in seeking the approval of the Dáil for a gross Vote for the current year of £2,000,000 for a service on which gross spending in 1947-48 was only £434,000. Of this year's £2,000,000, £1,700,000, or 85 per cent. will be directly expended on salaries and wages, including payments to carters, as compared with 80 per cent. in 1947-48. The wage-content percentage may show a further rise in future years. It is in this remarkably high labour content of forestry and in the particular potentialities of forestry in the congested counties that the great immediate value of afforestation on social grounds rests, but the State's capital outlay on afforestation is not merely justifiable on social grounds. Ultimately it will bring a worth-while investment yield as well as contributing in a notable degree towards a better balance of payments position.
Deputies will remember from the detailed information which I gave the House on the Forestry Bill debate last autumn that, even if our annual planting programme for the future remained pegged at last year's actual accomplishment of 15,000 acres, we might anticipate an ultimate annual yield of sawlog timber amounting to five times our present consumption with, of course, equivalent availabilities of other smaller material. There is no need to stress that fact further. Nor should it be necessary to remind the House of the favourable future position of this country vis-a-vis our nearest neighbour, Great Britain—a comparison upon which I also elaborated in that debate. I feel, however, that it may be helpful to quote for the information of the House a few relevant facts in relation to our position vis-a-vis the Continent of Europe.
Let us start with the fact that little more than 2 per cent. of this country is devoted to woods and plantations, leaving us far worse off in this respect at the moment than any other European country, but let us take account also of other pertinent facts. In Europe as a whole the concept of economic afforestation, that is planting for timber production, is a modern one, and the big headache of most European forest authorities is not to create new forests but to seek to bring their countries' existing forests and nominal forests into fuller bearing. In very many European countries there are large areas technically classed as woodland which are understocked and capable of producing little or no useful timber. As just one example, let me mention Yugoslavia, 28½ per cent. of which is under forest; it is authoritatively stated that, through neglect of proper treatment 38 per cent. of the forest area "does not contribute to the production of timber". For Europe as a whole, 58 per cent. of total forest area is represented by forests not managed under proper working plans. Only 33 per cent. of European forests are State-owned and there is considerable difficulty in securing more efficient management of the privately owned forests, except in the isolated instances of forests operated by large industrial companies. Forty per cent. of European forests are devoted to hardwoods, giving a lower annual yield than the conifers. The overall annual yield from European forests, expressed in relation to population is only 25½ cubic feet per person. Excluding this country and exluding also the three Scandinavian countries which are large timber exporters, Sweden, Norway and Finland, the annual yields from European forests expressed in relation to population is only 17½ cubic feet per person. If this country were to do no more than plant 15,000 acres a year henceforward, the future annual yield estimated on a moderate base can be taken as 30½ cubic feet per person. In other words we have already advanced to a point at which we have a guarantee of a future timber yield more favourable than that enjoyed to-day by Europe as a whole and almost twice as favourable as that enjoyed by Europe less the Scandinavian timber-exporting bloc. The comparison would become even more favourable if account were taken of the high European consumption of timber for fuel purposes. In Europe excluding the Scandinavian bloc, fuel consumption accounts for 46 per cent. of the total cut.
To drive the point home, let us compare our position with that of Denmark—I suggest Denmark because it is another small country with a comparatively small population and with a prime reliance on agriculture for its economy. Denmark at the moment has an average yield per acre almost three times the European average and 9.1 per cent. of the country is under forest. It is authoritatively stated that "the demands for afforestation in Denmark have been fully satisfied". One would not expect to find material for a favourable comparison here. But with over one-third of Denmark's forests hardwoods giving a lower yield and with 62 per cent. of the total forest area privately-owned, 27 per cent. being held by 18,000 proprietors of small-holdings the net Danish yield is only 24 cubic feet per person as compared with the anticipated future Irish yield of 30½ cubic feet per person from a planting programme of even 15,000 acres. Take into account the facts that 38 per cent. of the total cut in Denmark is at present devoted to firewood and that a much higher proportion of Denmark's population is industrially employed with a higher potential consumption of industrial timber and the comparison becomes even more favourable.
The picture I have just presented is in such striking contrast with our present impoverished state as to call for further explanation. The explanation is simple. Our very impoverishment has left us in the position that most of our modern plantations are of fast-growing conifers and all of our plantations are being laid down and developed as a State undertaking on lines calculated to give maximum yield with the added advantage that climatic conditions afford a prospect of an unusually high yield even for fully-stocked forest. Our misfortune of to-day is, therefore, paradoxically also the basis of a healthy position in the future. That position is already assured and we can take pride in the solid progress that has been made and the even greater progress planned for the future.
Now let us recapitulate briefly. I have tried in all that I have said to avoid any political scoring. I cannot alter cold fact and it is cold fact that it was the first inter-Party Government which inaugurated our present vigorous forestry policy but I have been at pains to show that the Fianna Fáil Government which held office from 1951 to 1954 is due full credit for following the inter-Party Government's lead and that that Government should not be blamed for the slowing down of fresh planting during their period of office. As we stand to-day the only real issues are: How much can we do? And how fast can we do it? Since the Forestry Service was given the signal to go ahead seven years ago very substantial progress has been made—spectacular progress in the light of the interim expansion of work in the existing plantations— and there is a guarantee of even further progress at a steady and appreciable rate in the years ahead. We have passed the stage where our establishment of forest was lagging behind possible future timber needs but our planting rate will continue to rise to the original 1948 target of 25,000 acres which will be reached in 1959-60.
Thereafter the position will be reviewed in the light, inter alia, of the degree of success attending experimental work in the western counties. If that work has not proved successful some modification in the planting rate may be inevitable; if it has prospered, a further increase is not out of the question. That is a practical common-sense view of to-day's situation. It concentrates on the attainment now and over the coming ten to 20 years of the maximum we can hope to achieve and leaves it open to the Government of the day to determine what should be done, say, in 40 years' time to fulfil national needs in 90 years' time. In a rapidly changing world we cannot, to-day, usefully consider the detailed requirements of our country in the middle of the next century.
That development programme is the one which, in the considered opinion of the Government, represents the most exact compliance with the national interest consistent with realistic possibilities. In being prepared to undertake a definite commitment on the lines set out, the Government is confident that the forestry service, to which the real credit for the progress of recent years is due, will meet fully the increasing demand made upon it. In this connection, I think I should point out that the forestry service always fulfils its declared planting programmes. How many big undertakings can claim that distinction?