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Forestry Programme 2014-2020 seeks to increase forest cover

Details of the proposed new Forestry Programme covering the period 2014 to 2020 were announced yesterday by Minister of State Tom Hayes.

Objectives include the establishment of over 46,000 hectares of new forests, the construction of 960km of forest roads and improved levels of support for the establishment and conservation of native woodlands.

The value of the forest and forest products sector now stands at just under €2.3bn per annum and employs 12,000 people (both direct and indirect).

In relation to recreation and tourism, there are an estimated 18 million visits to forests annually and total economic activity generated by domestic forest users amounts to €268m.

The proposed programme has been released for public consultation, alongside an Environmental Report on this new plan for forestry.

Following the public consultation process, the planned programme will be submitted to the European Commission for approval.

This public consultation exercise follows on from an earlier consultation involving, inter alia, several bilateral meetings with stakeholders and representative groups.

Arising from these discussions is a suite of 11 measures, with increased grant and premiums rates for new afforestation projects.

These measures aim to increase forest cover and generate additional supplies of timber and wood biomass to meet the projected increase in demand from the wood-processing and renewable energy sectors.

Mr Hayes said that he was encouraged by the level of engagement by stakeholders so far and was happy to announce that the number of premium payments being proposed was now 15 instead of 12 as set out in the earlier consultation document issued in March.

"This was a significant improvement on what was originally proposed and is particularly noteworthy given that the premium rate has also increased by 10% for the most popular grant category," he said.

Mr Hayes also signalled a proposed small increase in some grant rates.

The plan has been designed to encourage more landowners to invest in forestry.

Two premium payment scales are being introduced where applications greater than eight hectares will receive a higher premium.

A single rate of premium for farmers and non-farmers to incentivise non-farmers to plant trees under the new scheme is included.

Changes are also being proposed to the forest road scheme in terms of the area of eligibility and the timing of payments.

In addition, it is proposed that a grant of up to €5,000 for special construction works be provided and support for connecting to existing forest road networks.

Mr Hayes said that the grants for special construction works will be targeted at applications falling within Natura 2000 sites and other environmentally-sensitive areas.

The aim will be to encourage the building of infrastructure that will help minimise any adverse effects on water quality that might arise from harvesting activity.

Closing date for submissions, on both the new programme and the Environmental Report, is 5 pm on October 12.