Non-farmer forestry planting in Ireland up 150 per cent

The levels of forestry being planted in Ireland by non-farmers rose by 150 per cent last year, according to new figures.

Released by Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, the statistics show that 35 per cent the total area planted between January and December 2016 was planted by private investors rather than farmers, with counties including Leitrim and Longford seeing this figure rise above 40 per cent.

The data also shows that around 6,499 hectares of forest was planted in Ireland in 2016, up by 215 hectares compared to 2015’s figures.

According to Farm Ireland, there has previously been criticism from politicians and farming communities over the Irish government’s planting plans, but industry leaders state that rural dwellers are the main driving force behind the 150 per cent boost.

Commenting on the figures, John O’Reilly, CEO of Green Belt, which is currently the country’s largest private forestry firm, states that they’re positive for the country, highlighting that forestry is still an important part of land use policy.

“There is a vast category of people out there who are elderly, widowed, incapable of farming but are landowners and traditional rural dwellers who were renting their land but couldn’t qualify at the higher rate of farmer premium because they weren’t actively farming or didn’t have an active herd number,” he said. “Now they can so a hell of a lot of them have created pent up demand.”

According to Mr O’Reilly, the figure still fails to take into account the number of non-farmer, city based planters and investment funds that are now taking an interest in forest planting.

In terms of regions, the latest statistics show that around 30 per cent of the country’s total forest planted was based in Connacht, with Cork boasting the largest area of land planted with over 600 hectares.

Although positive figures for the investors and other forestry departments, these numbers have caused issue with Sinn Fein TD Martin Kenny, who raised concerns over the number of non-farmers who are receiving the same level of forestry grant as active farmers in the same communities.

“I accept the whole afforestation drive is to reduce CO2 emissions,” he said. “However, small farmers, particularly in Sligo and Leitrim, have seen this become a gravy train for wealthy people to make much money at their expense.”

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