I propose to take Questions Nos. 510 and 518 together.
The Climate Action Plan is a comprehensive government response to the risks associated with climate change and outlines actions and strategies to reduce and manage those risks through a combination of mitigation and adaptation responses. The Plan recognises that afforestation has a significant role to play in mitigation, particularly through carbon sequestration and sets a target of 8,000 hectares per annum of new planting. Achieving this target will be challenging, as recent trends have not delivered planting at this rate. It is the case that farm forestry is key to increasing our planting rates, and it is of note that the majority of planting in recent years has been on farms, where forestry complements the farming enterprise and provides the farmer with an additional income source and a long-term asset.
Successive national programmes have supported afforestation and I will continue to support farmers to plant trees through the provision of generous grants and 15 year premiums under the current Forestry Programme 2014 -2020. These grants and premiums were significantly increased in 2018, with a view to encouraging greater uptake, and this has had some impact, particularly in terms of broadleaf planting.
A greater awareness of the multi-functional benefits of forestry will make afforestation a more attractive proposition for all land-owners, including farmers. That is why I have funded 15 promotional projects, at a cost of nearly €1million to raise awareness of the environmental, recreational and social benefits of forestry. These projects, which run to end 2020, have a regional spread and cover a range of activities from educational to community-based initiatives to forest management and open days on woodland establishment. This is in addition to the Teagasc Forestry Promotion Campaign 2018 – 2020 which has an important focus on educating the next generation of young farmers in forestry as they pass through the Teagasc third level college system. The campaign also includes promotion activities at farming events across the country such as the Dairy Open Day and Crops and Cultivation Open Day targeting farmers who may not have considered forestry as an option.
Current farm forestry owners can encourage others to plant or even increase the level of planting on their own farms. These forest-owners are receiving assistance in understanding and managing their forest asset through Knowledge Transfer groups, where peer-to-peer learning and trained advisors disseminate information over a series of meetings. My Department funds these groups with 37 new groups approved this year. The message that needs to be more widely understood is that a valuable income can be secured from a forestry crop and this may go some way towards addressing the reluctance to plant.
We will of course also be examining ways in which farm forestry can be better integrated into the new CAP. This is to ensure that there are no barriers to planting while also providing for possible tree-planting measures under the new CAP through, for example, new agri-environment schemes.