Health Screening Programmes

Ceisteanna (239)

Sorca Clarke

Ceist:

239. Deputy Sorca Clarke asked the Minister for Health when services such as developmental checks for children and health screening services are expected to return to pre-Covid-19 levels. [23215/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Health)

As this is a service matter, I have asked the Health Service Executive to respond to the deputy directly, as soon as possible.

Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services

Ceisteanna (240)

Sorca Clarke

Ceist:

240. Deputy Sorca Clarke asked the Minister for Health the number of young persons who were referred to youth and adolescent mental health services in counties Longford and Westmeath in 2018, 2019 and to date in 2020; the number of young persons seen by the service in the same period; the number of referrals that were not accepted by the service; and the number of referrals not accepted that were referred onwards to psychology or other pertinent services in the same period in tabular form. [23216/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Health)

As this is a service, matter I have asked the Health Service Executive to respond directly to the Deputy, as soon as possible.

Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services

Ceisteanna (241)

Sorca Clarke

Ceist:

241. Deputy Sorca Clarke asked the Minister for Health the number of persons referred to CAMHS in 2018, 2019 and to date in 2020, in counties Longford and Westmeath; the number that were seen by CAMHS in the same period; the number of referrals that were not seen by CAMHS in the same period; and the number of referrals not accepted by CAMHS that were referred onwards to community alcohol and drug service or other pertinent service in the same period in tabular form. [23217/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Health)

As this is a service, matter I have asked the Health Service Executive to respond directly to the Deputy, as soon as possible.

National Treatment Purchase Fund

Ceisteanna (242)

Sorca Clarke

Ceist:

242. Deputy Sorca Clarke asked the Minister for Health the number of persons by county awaiting eye care treatment through the National Treatment Purchase Fund. [23218/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Health)

The information requested by the Deputy is being collated by Department officials and a deferred reply will be submitted within ten working days.

Health Services

Ceisteanna (243)

Sorca Clarke

Ceist:

243. Deputy Sorca Clarke asked the Minister for Health the number of children awaiting an appointment with an optometrist by county. [23219/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Health)

As this is a service matter, I have asked the Health Service Executive to respond to the Deputy directly, as soon as possible.

Health Services

Ceisteanna (244)

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

244. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Health if the nationwide roll-out of the Sligo eyecare scheme in respect of the current waiting list of 52,000 for inpatient and outpatient eyecare will be commenced; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23221/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Health)

As this is a service matter, I have asked the Health Service Executive to respond to the Deputy directly, as soon as possible.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Ceisteanna (245)

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

245. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Health the details of the support and advice services available to persons experiencing long-term effects of Covid-19. [23222/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Health)

It is recognised that in some people who have been infected with Covid-19 continuing symptoms or side effects can occur during recovery. These can include physical, mental or emotional difficulties.

A person recovering from COVID-19 infection should speak to their general practitioner or their hospital team about accessing relevant care pathways to ensure that they are enabled to received support and advice for any long-term symptoms or health problems they may be experiencing.

The general practitioner or the hospital team will understand the clinical history and the personal circumstances relating to an individual and can provide the necessary advice and guidance that suit the particular needs of the individual’s circumstances.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Ceisteanna (246)

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

246. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Health the staff currently assigned or redeployed to Covid-19 testing and tracing work on the basis of their original discipline or area of work within the health service and from other Departments or agencies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23223/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Health)

As this is a service matter, I have asked the Health Service Executive to respond to the deputy directly, as soon as possible.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Ceisteanna (247)

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

247. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Health the current information available to him on the efficacy of single Covid-19 testing for persons that are asymptomatic in respect of the reliability of such results; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23224/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Health)

The HSE has adopted RNA PCR as the gold standard test for diagnosing Covid-19 cases, which has been deployed as part of the HSE test and trace strategy, consistent with international best practice.

Testing for Covid-19 only provides a point-in-time result. It confers no guarantee that the individual with a 'not detected' result is not incubating the infection or the level of virus is below detectable levels at the time of the test. It is for this reason that testing of close contacts of a confirmed case is carried out on two separate occasions, when they are first identified and again 7 days after their last contact with the person.

Success in detecting Covid-19 is affected by the timing of sampling, the type and quality of the sample and the test used to analyse the sample. However, no single test is 100% sensitive or 100% specific. Extensive validations have been carried out in our laboratories, with national collation of data, to ensure that the tests used show high sensitivity.

Hospital Appointments Status

Ceisteanna (248)

Joe Carey

Ceist:

248. Deputy Joe Carey asked the Minister for Health when an operation will take place for a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23231/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Health)

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic the HSE had to take measures to pause most elective scheduled care activity with effect from the end March 2020. This was to ensure patient safety and that all appropriate resources were made available for Covid-19 related activity and time-critical essential work. This decision was in line with the advice issued by National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) and in accordance with World Health Organisation guidelines, and the National Action Plan.

To ensure services are re-introduced in a safe, clinically aligned and prioritised way, the HSE launched its Strategic Framework for ‘Service Continuity in a Covid Environment’ on 24 June. Its implementation will ensure service resumption is done in an integrated way. This will involve a phased approach to ensure community services are strengthened. The Framework will also consolidate new ways of working and build on international knowledge. Further detail regarding the phases of service resumption are contained in the HSE’s ‘A Safe Return to Health Services’ document, published on their website on 22 July.

Under the Health Act 2004, the Health Service Executive (HSE) is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Section 6 of the HSE Governance Act 2013 bars the Minister for Health from directing the HSE to provide a treatment or a personal service to any individual or to confer eligibility on any individual.

The National Waiting List Management Policy is a standardised approach used by the HSE to manage scheduled care treatment for in-patient, day case and planned procedures. It sets out the processes that hospitals are to implement to manage waiting lists and was developed in 2014 to ensure that all administrative, managerial and clinical staff follow an agreed national minimum standard for the management and administration of waiting lists for scheduled care.

In relation to the particular query raised, as this is a service matter, I have asked the Health Service Executive to respond to the Deputy directly, as soon as possible.

Podiatry Services

Ceisteanna (249)

Paul Kehoe

Ceist:

249. Deputy Paul Kehoe asked the Minister for Health the position regarding podiatry services provided by the HSE in County Wexford; the status of the service going forward; the number of persons on the waiting list for the service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23234/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Health)

As this is a service matter, I have asked the Health Service Executive to respond to the Deputy directly, as soon as possible.

Farm Retirement Scheme

Ceisteanna (250)

Michael Healy-Rae

Ceist:

250. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the details regarding the introduction to a new retirement scheme for farmers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23042/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

In recent years, the priority of my Department has shifted to the encouragement of generational change for farmers by assisting the development of our young farmers. There is a range of supports in place, including specific agri-taxation measures to incentivise this generational change. These agri-taxation measures specifically aimed at young farmers include 100% stock relief on income tax for certain young trained farmers and stamp duty exemption on transfers of land to young trained farmers.

Under the 2014-2020 Rural Development Programme, there is also an enhanced capital investment scheme for young trained farmers under the Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Schemes. This Scheme provides them with grant aid at a rate of 60% of the cost of the investment, compared to the standard grant rate of 40%, and I believe it is an important support and encouragement to young farmers starting in agriculture for the first time.

Generational renewal continues to be a priority for my Department and will form an important part of the CAP post-2020. My Department and I are actively engaging with other Member States and the EU on these issues during the current negotiations on new CAP proposals. We can then consider in more detail when we have the final EU Regulations as part of the wider consideration of all proposals for the next CAP.

Felling Licences

Ceisteanna (251)

Michael Creed

Ceist:

251. Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine when a tree felling licence application for a person (details supplied) in County Cork will be expedited. [23079/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

A tree felling licence application for the person named was received in July, 2019. Every application for a forestry licence must be carefully assessed by my Department to ensure that any potential impacts the proposed forestry operations may have on the surrounding countryside and environment are considered.

This applicant site is near to five designated sites, including the Bandon River and the Gearagh SAC and SPA. Therefore, the application was referred to my Department’s Ecology unit, for their input. If the applicant so wishes, they may at their own expense, submit a Natura Impact Statement (NIS).

Having a NIS in place can considerably reduce the time it takes to assess the application. If the person named decides to do so, they may contact my Department and guidance on the areas the NIS must focus will be issued.

Areas of Natural Constraint Scheme

Ceisteanna (252)

Michael Creed

Ceist:

252. Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if a person (details supplied) in County Cork has an entitlement to the areas of natural constraints payment for 2019 and 2020. [23082/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

In order to participate in the Areas of Natural Constraints (ANC) scheme, an individual must apply for the Scheme by ticking the appropriate box when submitting their application for the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) online.

Where an applicant did not tick the box to apply for the scheme when making their 2019 application, they were presented during the application process with a screen message to advise that they had not ticked the box to apply for the scheme. This message required the applicant to explicitly choose whether they wished to apply or not for the ANC Scheme. The online system required this confirmation to be completed before continuing with the submission of the BPS application.

The named individual did not apply for the 2019 ANC Scheme as part of the BPS application process. The BPS application was submitted online on 15th April 2019.

Communication has been made with the named individual advising that they may submit an appeal in writing to my Department requesting to be allowed to apply for the 2019 ANC scheme and outlining any relevant information in support of their appeal, along with providing any documentation that may support their appeal.

Should the named individual submit an appeal, this appeal will be reviewed by my Department and a response advising of the outcome of the appeal will issue to the named individual.

The named individual did apply for participation in the ANC scheme for 2020 when submitting their BPS application on the 23rd April 2020. This application is being processed by my Department in the normal manner.

Agriculture Scheme Appeals

Ceisteanna (253)

Michael Creed

Ceist:

253. Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine when a decision will be made on an appeal by persons (details supplied) in County Cork. [23084/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

I wish to inform the Deputy that the Agriculture Appeals Office operates independently of my Department.

I have been advised, however, that the records of the Agriculture Appeals Office indicate that a GLAS appeal was received from the above named.

I am also advised that the appeal was assigned to an Appeals Officer for examination and that a decision will be issued by the Appeals Officer shortly.

Animal Diseases

Ceisteanna (254)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Ceist:

254. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine further to Parliamentary Question No. 650 of 28 July 2020, if the information (details supplied) has since been provided to his Department; when the information will be made available to this Deputy as promised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23126/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

The compilation of the statistics requested by the Deputy is taking longer than had been expected. I hope they will be to hand shortly and they will be forwarded to the Deputy as soon as possible.

Cuanta agus Céanna

Ceisteanna (255)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Ceist:

255. D'fhiafraigh Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív den Aire Talmhaíochta, Bia agus Mara cén dul chun cinn atá déanta ar ché dhomhainmhara a fhorbairt i Ros an Mhíl; cén uair a bhfuiltear ag súil le tairiscintí a lorg don obair ar an gcé; agus an ndéanfaidh sí ráiteas ina thaobh. [23127/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

Tá sé Lárionad Cuain Iascaigh ainmnithe faoi úinéireacht an stáit (FHC) atá suite i mBaile Chaisleáin Bhéarra, Daingean Uí Chúis, an Dún Mór Thoir, Binn Éadair, na Cealla Beaga agus Ros an Mhíl, faoi úinéireacht ag mo Roinnse agus déanann an Roinn iad a chothabháil agus a chur i bhfeidhm, faoi reacht.

Cuireann an Roinn maoiniú ar fáil ar bhonn bliantúil do na Lárionaid Chuain Iascaigh, lena n-áirítear Ros an Mhíl, faoin gClár Forbartha Infreastruchtúir Cuanta Iascaigh agus Cósta. Tá dul chun cinn déanta le blianta anuas ar chlár céimnithe chun bonneagar Lárionad Chuan Iascaigh Ros an Mhíl a fhorbairt agus tá infheistíocht shuntasach déanta ann. Ar an iomlán, rinneadh tuairim is €31m a infheistiú i bhforbairtí caipitil i Lárionad Chuan Iascaigh Ros an Mhíl idir 2000 agus 2019. Ina theannta sin, tá breis is €1.5m leithroinnte chun oibreacha caipitil a dhéanamh sa chalafort in 2020.

Tá an fhéidearthacht maidir le tionscadal beart domhainmhara ag Lárionad Chuan Iascaigh Ros an Mhíl curtha chun cinn ag an Roinn le tamall anuas. Choimisiúnaigh an Roinn comhairleoirí DKM chun Anailís Costais is Tairbhe a dhéanamh ar a bheadh i gceist le céibh domhainmhara a fhorbairt ag Ros an Mhíl. Cuireadh dréacht-thuarascáil ar aghaidh chuig an Roinn i Meitheamh 2017. Cé go raibh sí dearfach, bhí imní ar an Roinn faoin tuarascáil agus níor ghlac sí go foirmeálta riamh léi.

Ó dréachtaíodh an tuarascáil sin, tá athrú tagtha ar roinnt de na bunphrionsabail a bhí mar thaca leis an gcéad anailís a rinneadh. In 2018, choimisiúnaigh an Roinn comhairleoirí innealtóireachta ina dhiaidh sin chun athbhreithniú a dhéanamh ar na réitigh dearaidh, ar na roghanna scóipeála agus ar ghnéithe oibríochta a d'fhéadfadh a bheith i gceist lena leithéid de thogra amach anseo. Fuarthas dréacht eatramhach den Tuarascáil Piarmheasúnaithe ar Bhalla na Cé in Aibreán 2019. Aithníodh sa tuarascáil seo an gá atá le fiosruithe eile suímh a dhéanamh ag Ros an Mhíl.

Chuathas i mbun na n-oibreacha i ndáil le fiosrú suímh i Lúnasa/Meán Fómhair 2019 agus tá siad sin tugtha chun críche anois. Fuarthas an tuarascáil Piarmheasúnaithe deiridh ar Bhalla na Cé an 27 Iúil 2020 agus cuireadh nuashonrú eile ar fáil ar an 4 Meán Fómhair 2020. Déanfaidh an Roinn an tuarascáil seo a bhreithniú anois lena n-áirítear torthaí na bhfiosruithe suímh chun eolas a dhéanamh do mheasúnú amach anseo ar réitigh dearaidh agus roghanna scóipeála féideartha, a dhéanfaidh, iad féin, eolas do chinntí maidir le dul chun cinn an tionscadail seo.

Bhí cead pleanála faighte i leith an tionscadail seo agus tá síneadh go dtí Aibreán 2023 curtha leis.

Mar a bhíonn le gach forbairt sna sé Lárionad Cuain Iascaigh tríd is tríd, ní dhéanfar aon chinneadh eile amach anseo i ndáil le tús a chur go foirmeálta leis an tionscadal seo i Ros an Mhíl a mheas ach ar an mbonn maoiniú státchiste agus tosaíochtaí náisiúnta iomaíochta a bheith ar fáil.

Fishing Industry

Ceisteanna (256)

Holly Cairns

Ceist:

256. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the engagements with representatives of the fishing organisations prior to the introduction of the fishing penalty points system; and the meeting dates. [23144/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

As the Deputy will be aware, the European Union (Common Fisheries Policy) (Point System) Regulations 2020 (S.I. No. 318 of 2020) was signed into force on 26 August 2020 and fully meet the requirement of the relevant EU regulations insofar as sea fishing boat licence holders are concerned.

The 2009 EU Fisheries Control Regulation 1224//2009 and EU Commission Implementing Regulation 404/2011 introduced points systems for serious infringements of the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy committed by the licence holder of a fishing vessel and also separately the master. These are intended to complement sanctions and promote compliance and were required to be in place on 1st of January 2012.

Both of these EU regulations went through the ordinary legislative procedures at EU level which would have included widespread consultation with interested parties including the Member States, Advisory Councils, NGOs and the fishing industry. The matter has also been discussed at industry liaison meetings over the years. It should also be noted that the EU regulations are highly prescriptive in relation to licence holders, leaving little room for further amendment.

These new regulations are a requirement of EU law and have been since 2012. All other coastal member States have implemented this EU points system. Ireland is in breach of its EU legal obligations as a result of its failure to implement them up to now.

As a result, the EU Commission under Infringement proceedings issued a Reasoned Opinion to Ireland in July 2020 and has given Ireland three months to respond. The implementation of these regulations was already overdue, but their urgency has been amplified by the Reasoned Opinion.

In addition, the European Commission has formally suspended payment to Ireland of EU co-funding payments under the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) Operational Programme. This suspension will continue indefinitely until Ireland puts in place the necessary legislation and administrative systems to comply with the EU Points System. Unless the regulatory lacuna is addressed immediately, we face an increasing financial cost to taxpayers. EU funds for control and enforcement available to Ireland under the EMFF are €37.2m over the course of the Programme. As of September 2020, approximately €13.5m in payments due were withheld. These will likely rise to approximately €24.5m in 2020 and a total of €37.2m is at risk for the full period of the Programme.

The new S.I. takes on board in full the findings of the related 2017 Supreme Court judgement that the procedures followed are fair and in accordance with best practices. It involves a Determination panel comprising of 3 independent legal professionals nominated by the Attorney General and offers a licence holder the option of an oral hearing for the purposes of the determination. In addition, a decision may be appealed to an independent Appeals Officer nominated by the Attorney General and the licence holder has the option of seeking an oral hearing also at this stage.

The new SI includes a number of, but not all, amendments sought as a result of consultations with the industry. I am satisfied that the new arrangements are the minimum required to meet the tests of proportionality, effectiveness and dissuasiveness required under EU law. The adoption of this new SI is also in line with the commitment in the Programme for Government.

I am confident that the new enhanced points system will play a vital role in delivering on the Common Fisheries Policy objective of ensuring proportionate, effective and dissuasive penalties for serious infringements, and contribute to a level-playing field in fisheries control across Member States. The points system is necessary as an effective measure against the small number – either foreign or Irish - who break the rules. It is necessary to protect the vast majority of our law abiding fishermen from the small few who would incur repeated serious infringements and put in jeopardy the fish stocks for all of our law abiding fishermen and for future generations.

I am very aware of the concerns that have been raised by the sector and will meet representatives in due course and to listen to and discuss the rationale for this Statutory Instrument.

Forestry Sector

Ceisteanna (257, 259)

Holly Cairns

Ceist:

257. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his views on increasing the resources and staff of the forestry appeals and licensing process to ensure that all licences and appeals are processed in a timely manner including the clearing of the substantial backlog. [23145/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Holly Cairns

Ceist:

259. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his views on establishing an independent review of the implementation of the Forestry Act 2014 to assess the way in which the substantial backlog was allowed to accrue; and the actions the Forestry Service has taken to ameliorate the situation. [23147/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 257 and 259 together.

In 2019, my Department commissioned an independent review of the licensing process, by Mr. James Mackinnon, CBE. His document, Review of Approval Processes for Afforestation in Ireland, was published in November 2019 and included 22 “Ways Forward” for the Department and industry stakeholders.

There is a commitment in the Programme for Government to implement these recommendations and my colleague, Minister Pippa Hackett, is considering the appointment of an independent chair to oversee the implementation of the actions in the Report. Furthermore, the Forestry Programme Implementation Group (FRIG), which comprises of relevant stakeholders, will monitor that implementation. A review of the FPIG is underway to ensure that it is balanced and representative and it is hoped that those invited to be members will fully engage with the work of the Group.

I accept the current changes to procedures are very significant and they have been challenging to implement such is the scope and breadth of them, which has unfortunately meant that there have been delays in issuing licences. It has taken substantial resources and effort to introduce a robust and workable system, which meets the legislative requirements, and I believe we now have that in place. A majority of my Department's licensing decisions are being confirmed at the Forestry Appeals Committee which gives confidence in these revised procedures.

My Department has a detailed project plan in place for dealing with the current backlog and new applications, which includes significant investment in extra resources required to deliver the plan. These resources are a combination of additional ecologists, forestry inspectors and administrative staff where required.

The project plan is a targeted, process-driven approach which prioritises files in a manner which will result in an increased number of licences being issued in the short-term and will deliver a return to expected timelines in the longer term. Applicants who have or are prepared to submit a Natura Impact Statement, where appropriate, will be prioritised.

A Project Management Board, with a dedicated Project Manager, is overseeing and monitoring delivery. There will be a continuous review of the process, in order to effect efficiencies. A communication plan to keep stakeholders fully and regularly informed of progress, with a dedicated central resource to deal with queries, is a key element of the project. While much of the success of the project plan lies with my Department, stakeholders also need to engage with it. This will require a commitment from forestry companies to submit only applications which have a realistic chance of being planted, to ensure all applications are of the required standard and quality, and to submit NISs in accordance with the guidance provided.

There is also a commitment under the Programme for Government to review the forestry appeals process to ensure that it is aligned with other comparable appeals processes. That is why a draft amendment to the Agriculture Appeals Act, 2001 is being introduced. The public consultation period for the draft Bill recently closed, with almost 9,000 submissions received. These submissions will inform the updated version of the Bill which will be presented to the Oireachtas. The introduction of these amendments will be accompanied by an on-line portal on which forestry licence applications and site details will be easily accessible to any interested party

I am more than aware that the current situation is challenging, but it is a temporary disruption which, when resolved, will make for a better, more sustainable and fit-for-purpose forestry licensing system for many years to come.

Forestry Sector

Ceisteanna (258)

Holly Cairns

Ceist:

258. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his views on establishing a forestry knowledge transfer programme similar to beef and dairy programmes. [23146/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

My Department has a well established Forestry Knowledge Transfer Group (FKTG) Scheme since its pilot year in 2017. This pilot was very well received and every year since, a new FKTG scheme has been opened, including this year.

The aim of the KTG scheme is to increase the level of forest management activity amongst participating forest owners. The target group are those forest owners that require additional knowledge to help them undertake one or more management activities in their forests. KTGs will provide the mechanism for gaining this expertise and empower them to manage their own forest over its rotation. By filling this knowledge gap, a potential barrier to the mobilisation of timber and biomass can be removed.

Groups are managed by an organiser, who may also be the group facilitators. Groups comprise 20 participants, who meet over seven events, both indoor and outdoor. Outdoor events may comprise visits to forests to demonstrate management activities or to sawmills. Peer-to-peer learning is the key tool, with participants setting their own learning agenda, with the facilitator structuring and guiding the discussion.

The scheme comprises mandatory and optional topics. The mandatory topics cover inter alia , obligations in respect of the Water Framework, Habitats and Birds Directives; health and safety; felling decision support tool; and, sustainable forestry methods and technologies. There is a range of 28 optional subjects including reforestation, woodland improvement and non-timber benefits of forestry. The delivery of this year's programme will, of course, be in accordance with, and conditional on, Covid-19 guidelines.

I am very pleased to note that participation in these schemes has increased year-on-year, as outlined in the following table:

-

No. of Groups

No. of participants

2018

33

605

2019

36

614

2020

42

840