The National Mitigation Plan (July 2017) states that “...the forest sector, through afforestation and the use of forest-based biomass and wood products offers considerable scope for climate change mitigation, equivalent to 20-22% of agricultural emissions.” In this context afforestation is a key land use strategy for my Department supported through the €0.5billion Forestry Programme 2014 – 2020. The afforestation scheme itself is voluntary and operates at a national level rather than targeting certain counties or regions. Therefore, in terms of maximising the potential of forestry to sequester carbon this very much depends on the willingness of landowners to participate in the scheme.
Strategic afforestation operates at scheme level where the programme aims to encourage landowners to consider planting trees on their farms. Agro forestry for example allows for forestry and grazing on the same land at the same while the forestry for fibre planting category can be clearfelled after 15 years and not 35-40 which is the case for more traditional forestry. So far over 18,000 hectares of new forests have been established during the first three years of the programme. The midterm review of this plan, completed in February 2018, improved the rates available for all planting categories.
Central to my Department’s approach to increasing forest cover is the promotion of “Farm Forestry” where farmers are encouraged to include afforestation as part of their overall farming mix. Land which is underutilised and perhaps more difficult to work on could be planted with trees, while moving livestock onto the dryer and more productive fields. In this way a new income is created while maintaining overall herd size.
In December 2016 Minister Doyle announced funding of over €1.3m for developing the “Irish Land Use Emission and Sequestration Support Tool”. This project will develop modelling capacity to examine future scenarios for agricultural greenhouse gas emissions and carbon sequestration by forestry in Ireland. Other projects recently funded by my Department include research on biomass and renewable energy from Short Rotation Forestry which explores the potential of short rotation forestry (SRF) to contribute to biomass production and renewable energy targets in Ireland.