First, I appreciate the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, coming in and taking this Topical Issue himself. Deputy Doyle has a keen interest in land use type. We had much discussion about that in the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine when he chaired it. The Minister of State has considerable experience of the uplands. He is aware of the fact that before farming took over, uplands sustained forestry in their natural state.
The issue is something that seems to be becoming prevalent with schemes that are being brought forward in areas such as housing and agriculture. The basic concept of the scheme is fantastic that we would grow more woodlands of native species but as one drills into the conditions, one finds that less people are able to avail of the scheme.
Obviously, people right throughout the State would like to grow hardwoods. There are many, particularly those with land of not such good quality, who would like to avail of the scheme but the problem is that under the Land Types for Afforestation 2017 manual that applies to the native woodland grant and premium categories, GPCs 9 and 10, one cannot get the grant or premium if the land is incapable of growing a crop of yield class 14 Sitka spruce. They use Sitka spruce as an indicative crop. That is a highly commercial crop but our reasons for planting hardwoods are far beyond commercial forestry. The Minister of State would accept that the reasons the State is so keen on native woodlands include the habitat they provide from an ecological point of view because of the timber it provides in the long term, but not necessarily that these provide the most commercial timber crop, and also the ecological advantages because of carbon sequestration. It is worthy of note, when one looks at Norway's policies, that it would appear they are much more willing to plant these uplands on the basis that they were naturally planted.
There is an irony in one case that came to me that it is within a mile and a half of the biggest timber mill in the country. Be that as it may, it is still being excluded from this woodland grant.
One farmer who raised this issue with me - this is a widespread problem - stated that he had planted timber previously. He had alder that grew to 8 ft in six years. He had sown 20 years ago a softwood pine and it is at 35 ft. He had grown birch trees with success in small quantities on the same land.
I ask the Minister of State to review the rules and determine the purpose of the scheme. Is it as I outlined, namely, for the purpose of having more broadleaves or hardwoods for the benefit of the ecology and habitats? If it is, should we require a high rate of commercial productivity or, rather, have separate rules for native woodland hardwood species?