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Written Answers. - Afforestation Programme.

Wednesday, 6 February 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 547 No. 4

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 36. Mr. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan  asked the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources Information on Frank Fahey Zoom on Frank Fahey  the total area of lands under forestry; his proposals for ongoing afforestations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3655/02]

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Fahey): Information on Frank Fahey Zoom on Frank Fahey As of 31 December 2000 the total area of lands under forest stood at 650,000 hectares, representing 9.4% of the national land area. The productive forest area amounts to 545,000 hectares and the balance is made up of broadleaf scrub woodlands not regularly managed and habitat areas.

Broadleaves account for 21% of the forest estate. Of the total area, Coillte owns almost 400,000 hectares or 61%, with approx 250,000 hectares or 39% owned by farmers and others. Forest cover by county ranges from 2.5% in County Meath to 21% of County Wicklow. The forest area is maintained through replanting following harvesting as provided for in the Forestry Act, 1946.

With regard to afforestation it is estimated that 15,000 hectares approximately have been grant aided in 2001. The planting targets set out in the 1996 strategic plan for forestry, Growing for the Future, envisaged annual planting of up to 25,000 hectares up to the year 2,000 and 20,000 hectares thereafter. While these ambitious targets have [1567] not been met in recent years, the planting levels achieved have been nonetheless significant.

There have been a number of significant recent developments, which will help to bring planting in line with targets. Firstly the role of forestry as one of the motors of rural development has been recognised in the Rural Development Plan 2000-2006, which is co-funded, by the Exchequer and the European Commission. Significant funding of around €686 million has been provided for afforestation under the plan, with a further €127 million available for structural measures. In addition €102 million is being invested by the private sector.

Secondly, average increases of approx 30% in both afforestation grant and premium levels have been introduced in the past two years. Initially, these increases only applied to planting which took place from 2000 onwards. However, following European Commission agreement, I was happy to announce in December last that the Government was providing 100% funding for the extension of the premium increases to those who planted in earlier years. I also secured agreement with the commission on the inclusion, for the first time ever, of a mid-term review of premium rates under the rural development plan. This is a significant development which, together with the average 30% increases, should begin to pay off in increased afforestation from this year onwards.

There have been other developments which are also relevant. The rural development plan provides for the integration of forestry and REPs. This will offer significant opportunities for forestry in the future. The national climate change strategy recognised the beneficial aspects of forestry, in particular, in countering greenhouse gases and in its role as a carbon sequestrator. The native woodland scheme provides for the planting of native species.

Given the combination of these factors, I am confident that planting levels will increase to target levels on an incremental basis over the coming years.

Question No. 37 answered with Question No. 35.

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