I am well aware of the impact of Ash Dieback on Ireland’s ash plantations. Indeed, we have taken the lead in Europe in terms of a response to this disease. In the first place, an exchequer-funded reconstitution scheme was introduced in 2013 to restore affected forests and, since then, over 1,600 hectares have been restored at a cost of €4.4 million. In addition, the Woodland Improvement Thinning and Tending scheme is available to forest owners in terms of managing the continuing impact of the disease.
While the reconstitution scheme was a reasonable response at the time, it became evident that given the progression and reach of the disease and based on the scientific knowledge available, a review of the scheme was needed. The original aims of the scheme i.e. eradication of the disease from Ireland, were no longer achievable, as the disease is now considered endemic here. Given that the scientific outlook had changed, the scheme was therefore suspended in April 2018, in order that a comprehensive review could be undertaken. However landowners who wished to continue growing their ash forest, where the presence of the disease was low, could continue to be paid their annual premiums.
The review process has included stakeholder and public consultation and detailed field consideration of damage level evaluation together with an examination of a broader range of silvicultural and management options available to forest owners. Advice from Teagasc and international experts has also been received. Current support schemes were examined to ensure their continued relevance and that they represent value for money for both the taxpayer and the forest owner. It seems that a broader and more responsive range of options will be needed to assist forest owners in managing affected forests and consideration is currently being given to the financial aspects of this new approach.
I hope to be in a position to announce the full results of the review shortly.