Having to pay for replanting after clearfell has dissuaded many farmers from forestry, but the Native Woodland Conservation Scheme now offers some growers reforestation grants, along with the other benefits unique to the forestry crop.
The Native Woodland Conservation Scheme offers grants of up to €5,000 per hectare for conversion of existing conifer forests to native woodland.
Private forest owners are also eligible for an annual premium payment of €350 per hectare for seven years.
In order to receive this funding, the conifer forest must be adjoining a sensitive watercourse, where native woodland establishment can contribute to the protection of water quality and aquatic habitats and species.
Water sensitive areas include freshwater pearl mussel catchments, fisheries sensitive areas, acid-sensitive areas, and high-status water bodies identified under the Water Framework Directive.
Where a marketable quantity of timber is realised from the felling operation, the quantity (in cubic metres) of timber must be documented and details submitted to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, together with evidence of timber-related income (including invoices and receipts).
The Department may reduce the grant payable accordingly, reflecting the value of the timber realised and, where relevant, the normal costs associated with standard replanting.
Applications under the Native Woodland Conservation Scheme must be made before clear-felling takes place.
And applicants must ensure that a valid felling licence is in place for any felling carried out under the scheme.
And Native Woodland Conservation Scheme projects must satisfy specific criteria designed to target available funds on priority sites such as designated woodlands, projects that will ‘deliver’ wider habitat linkage, or enhanced protection of sensitive watercourses.
For conversion of existing conifer forest to native woodland (for example, removal of a uniform Sitka spruce plantation adjoining a sensitive watercourse; deer fencing; and reforestation with native woodland, through planting and/or natural regeneration), the Native Woodland Conservation Scheme offers a first grant per hectare of €3,800; a second grant of €1,200; and an annual premium for seven years of €350 per hectare.
The forestry licensing process makes it obligatory to replant a clear-felled site in forests in all but the most exceptional cases.
Whereas there are generous grants and premiums for the establishment of new forests (which can amount to over €16,000 per hectare), the Forestry Programme does not normally cover the cost of reforestation.
An EU regulation disallows state aid for reforestation grants, where felled trees are replaced with equivalent ones.
But the proceeds of a landowner’s mature timber asset at clear-fell should more than cover the cost of reforestation. For example, the value of a crop of Sitka spruce, yield class 20, felled at year 43 and thinned on three occasions, is over €30,000 per hectare, whereas replanting costs are considerably lower than this. Also, the clearfell proceeds are tax-free for the landowner as part of the national forestry policy.
Since 2016, changes to taxation rules mean that income from felling is no longer subject to the High Earners Income Tax restriction which limited the exemption to €80,000 per annum.