That pursuant to Standing Order 233, Standing Order 187 is modified to provide that it be an instruction to the Select Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, in relation to the Animal Health and Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2021, that the Committee has power to make amendments to the Bill which are outside the scope of the existing subject matter of the Bill, in relation to:
(a) strengthening the regulatory framework for the promotion of tree planting as part of a scheme by removing the requirement for an afforestation licence for:
(i) an area of not less than 0.1 hectare and not greater than 1 hectare, or
(ii) an area of not less than 0.1 hectare that is not greater than 20 metres in width
where the trees concerned are native tree species only, of which not more than 25 per cent are Scots pine; and
(b) the introduction of a provision so that the Minister may make Regulations to provide for a native tree area Scheme and supporting grants;
and to make other consequential amendments required to take account of the changes above.
I am sharing time with the Minister of State, Senator Hackett.
I thank the House for giving me the opportunity to outline a number of amendments to the Forestry Act 2014 to increase the planting of native trees. The programme for Government outlines our commitment to addressing the urgent need to increase the level of tree-planting. We acknowledge our planting targets are ambitious and we need to improve significantly on the rate at which we issue licences. These changes are part of a number of work areas my Department is considering to review processes and examine in more detail the regulatory regime while safeguarding the environment.
The proposal today is designed to remove a legislative barrier to small-scale native tree-planting. The inclusion of small-scale native tree-planting measures in agriculture and forestry schemes is currently constrained by the 0.1 ha limit imposed by the definition of a forest in the Forestry Act 2014. Approval is sought to amend the Forestry Act 2014 through the Animal Health and Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2021 to expand the native tree-planting areas as part of a scheme by removing the requirement for an afforestation licence for an area of not less than 0.1 ha and not greater than 1 ha, or an area of not less than 0.1 ha that is not greater than 20 m in width.
This will complement existing tree-planting measures and aims to re-engage farmers in afforestation and to play a part in meeting the ambitious roadmap towards climate neutrality, as outlined in the recently published climate action plan. Our afforestation targets are ambitious when compared with recent afforestation rates and will be challenging to meet in the next decade. Clearly, more needs to be done to increase our afforestation rates substantially over the next decade, including achieving greater integration between the measures in the national forestry programme and the Common Agricultural Policy. These measures are not a substitute for the ongoing work to reform the licensing process or for planting afforestation sites, which remain a priority for the Department. Instead, they are another part of the solution that will assist in getting trees planted on Irish farms.
Woodlands and trees provide a wide range of benefits that include social, environmental and economic values. Ireland has 11% forest cover in addition to the many individual trees found growing in hedgerows, parks and fields. Trees play an important role in climate change mitigation and biodiversity. Creating new native woodlands and undisturbed water setbacks can deliver meaningful ecosystem services that protect and enhance water quality and aquatic ecosystems. The creation of these permanent semi-natural landscape features alongside streams, rivers and lakes will protect and enhance water quality and aquatic habitats into the future.
I will now provide the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, with the opportunity to comment further on why these proposals are important.