There has been a 57% increase in the volume of applications for the forestry establishment grant in the first two months of 2012, according to Forestry Minister Shane McEntee.
The new applications for 3,120 hectares in January and February are additional to financial approvals by the Department of Agriculture for 4,760 hectares for this year’s planting programme.
Mr McEntee said he is confident this year’s target area of 7,000 hectares will be afforested.
He confirmed that restrictions on afforestation of unenclosed land continue, for environmental and economic reasons.
However, integrated planting of enclosed and unenclosed land is allowed if the unenclosed land does not exceed 20% of the project area.
He rejected views that unenclosed land restrictions are holding back afforestation, and said restrictions are needed for protection of ecologically important wildlife habitats and species on unenclosed land, the greater risk of fire damage than on enclosed land and the greater need for phosphate fertiliser, which has the potential for environmental risk to adjacent aquatic habitats and species such as the freshwater pearl mussel.
He said the price of timber is very solid and the future for the industry is very strong.
“I was informed yesterday that the price of ash has increased from €60 to €90 a tonne for thinnings.”
Mr McEntee said the establishment grant covering the entire initial cost of planting of the trees, coupled with an annual tax-free premium of up to €715 per hectare for up to 20 years, has become a very attractive option for farmers.
Of the national forest estate, 53% of forest cover is in public ownership through Coillte Teoranta, while the remaining 47% is in private ownership (having risen 25% since 1987).
The Government is considering the sale of some Coillte assets, excluding the sale of land, which are now being valued by the NTMA (NewERA unit) and the Government.
It is likely that any buyer would have to replant all forestry areas harvested — this is government policy apart from exceptional circumstances.
There is currently no grant assistance available for the replanting of forests following the commercial felling of trees.
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