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This section is intended to give some general information, from our perspective, about relevant subjects and topical items of interest. It is not intended to be definitive although some of our views are strongly held!

Carbon Credits

There has been a lot of discussion about carbon credit trading which is basically about getting paid for the carbon storage capacity of forests. It is still uncertain as to whether carbon credit trading will become a commercial reality. Issues of valuation and pricing as well as fundamental political issues arise. We suggest that you undertake forestry investment on the assumption that carbon credit trading will not be a significant factor in the future but undertake forestry establishment and related work on the basis that it will!

If you are interested in this subject we refer you to a report published by COFORD entitled Carbon Credits in Ireland: Issues and Potentials. You can download a copy here.

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Plantation Forests

Plantations are defined as forest stands established by planting and/or seeding in the process of afforestation or reforestation. They are either introduced species or intensively managed stands of indigenous species which meet all the following criteria: one or two species at a plantation, even age-class and regular spacing (UN 2000).

The definition of plantation forests covers different types of forests according to their main function or management strategy: e.g. forests for wood production, soil protection, wind control, agro-forestry, urban and suburban forestry. The term "cultivated forest" is perhaps a more appropriate term, to avoid the reduction of plantation forests to industrial forests, while the idea associated with cultivated forests involves society-driven management, multidimensional objectives and a sustainable management approach.

In 2001, there are 187 millions hectares (ha) of plantation forests in the world, while the total forest area is 3.8 billion ha (FAO 2001). In Europe, including Eastern Europe, there are 32 millions ha of plantation forests - 17% of the world total.

Cultivated forests are probably the most actively managed in the world. Their fast growth makes a significant contribution to wood supply. Because of their management intensity, cultivated forests grow faster than semi-natural forests, and are thus able to faster meet their objective, be it wood production, carbon sequestration, soil fixation or suburban landscaping. Plantation forestry is an efficient answer to the increasing wood demand at the world scale. It is also important to note that as a consequence of plantation forestry, it is possible to decrease the pressure of wood harvesting in natural or semi-natural forests. The development of cultivated forests can have a positive impact on the protection of natural habitats, biodiversity and forest genetic resources.

The perception of plantation forests by the urban society is often negative, as plantation forests are supposed to have unfavourable impacts on the environment. This negative perception may change as a result of a more informed society and of various measures, e.g. through improving the biodiversity and the landscapes of plantation forests. Moreover considering the driving impact of the wood product market and certification processes on forestry, plantation foresters and researchers need to analyse the impacts of the future demands of wood industries on their silvicultural alternatives, and the possible consequences to sustainable forest development.

{Sources include the European Forest Institute .}

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The EU regulations are statutory instruments. In Ireland forestry activity is governed by Forestry Acts, that of 1946 being the most important. It governs felling of trees which is strictly controlled. Ireland is also obliged to comply with EU directives and these, particularly in the Environmental area, can have major implications. In an afforestation context the State can impose conditions through the grant approval process. Ireland has developed a suite of governing principles and regulations with which all afforestation must comply.
These include the IRISH NATIONAL FOREST STANDARD which outlines the criteria and indicators relating to the national implementation of sustainable forest management (SFM).

The Code of Best Forest Practice, the first to be produced in Europe, describes all forest operations and the appropriate manner in which they should be carried out to ensure the implementation of Sustainable Forest Management.

Five environmental guidelines relating to water quality, archaeology, landscape, biodiversity and harvesting are the mechanisms by which the Forest Service (the section of the Department of Agriculture and Food which is responsible for forestry matters) ensures that the environmental aspects of SFM are implemented. Adherence to the guidelines is a condition of grant aid and felling licence approval and there can be penalties for breaches

There are other relevant legislative issues in relation to forestry and land management. For instance Section 40 of the Wildlife Act, 1976 states that it is an offence to cut, grub, burn or otherwise destroy vegetation growing in any hedge or ditch. Damage is caused nearly every year to forests as a result of burning, much of it illegal during the banned period. Forest owners should not hesitate in reporting any illegal activities, while of course, also ensuring that their properties are adequately protected by fire breaks and other fire prevention precautions as appropriate.

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Irish Forestry - a (very) brief history - particularly for our friends from overseas.
The area of the island of Ireland is about 84,000 square kilometres of which about 70,000 are in the Republic of Ireland. Ireland has very fertile mineral soils, excellent for growing grass and trees with a moderate climate. The predominant land use is agriculture.
Temperatures range from 4 - 7 degrees in winter and average 14-16 degrees in the Summer. Rainfall is very high ranging from 800mm to 1600mm depending on which part of the country one is in.
Ireland has a comparative advantage in softwood, and some hardwood, production benefiting from suitable soils and climate. We have shorter rotation woods and our growth potential for softwoods is perhaps 16 cubic metres per hectare per annum - about 4 times the European average.

Ireland was once virtually covered entirely by trees and even 400 years ago, the level of cover was at 12% about 30% greater then the present day. For various reasons this had dropped to about 1% at the turn of the last century (1900). Successive Governments sought to encourage forestry but not at the expense of agriculture. Over the 40 years or so to 1945 percentage covered doubled - to 2% and experience and expertise was developed.

After the Second World War there was greater emphasis on growing timber but it remained general policy that agricultural land should not be used for forestry so much of the planting was on very poor land in the West of Ireland. After a further 40 years cover had again doubled, plus a bit, to 5% by 1984. By then, various studies which supported the case for timber production and related industry had been undertaken; we had joined the EEC (in 1972); there were forecasts of EC demand for timber increasing twice as fast as production (perhaps a questionable assumption) and the tremendous forestry potential of the wet mineral soils which were very marginal in agriculture was being recognised.

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So the active encouragement of afforestation was rapidly gaining support. However the challenge was to convince farmers that forestry could be seen as an integral part of an agricultural programme instead of being seen as inimical to farming interests.

In 1981 the EU launched a campaign to encourage more private planting and this led to the introduction of what became known as the Western package. Private investors increasingly participated in forestry - led by the founder of our business.

Much of the planting at that stage was by Pension Funds and other private investors who would buy abandoned or retiring agricultural land and then avail of grants towards the planting costs. This led to an improvement in the quality of land going into forestry. WOODLAND has its origins in that type of business. However there was poor farmer take-up. The scheme was relaunched in 1985 with grants of up to 85%. But farmers were not convinced and they had to be if there was to be a dramatic change. In 1988 the scope of the package was broadened further and it was announced that compensatory headage payments would be paid to qualifying farmers (mainly those on low incomes) who planted land.

For the first time forestry became a realistic alternative land use for Irish farmers. There was a modest increase in planting but even more importantly a change in attitude began to take place. Forestry could now take place on lands that were previously regarded as agricultural. The key to this was the support from the European Union. Substantial additional grants were introduced in 1990 and as luck would have it agriculture went through a very difficult time in the early 1980s. The 10 years from 1984 to 1993 produced almost as much increase in forest cover as the previous 40 years.

A significantly improved programme introduced in 1993 provided for annual compensation for loss of income for nearly all farmers who planted land and led to an initial dramatic increase in planting in the mid 1990s although this has fallen off significantly. However over the last 10 years or so we have added a further 2% to forest cover. So in less than 20 years we have achieved more than had been achieved in the previous 80 years.

In 2000 a further programme was launched, the result of which is that most planting is now undertaken by farmers; the rate of uptake by farmers is likely to increase as restructuring of agricultural supports gathers pace and as significant change in traditional farming enterprises gains momentum. The Programme for Government, following the 2002 general election set just one measure in relation to forestry - to work towards achieving planting levels of 20,000 hectares. However under Minister Dermot Ahern, TD the budget for forestry was slashed (supposedly to help fund broadband!). Forestry has never really ecovered from that devastating blow (it is, in fairness, more complex than that)although the transfer of responsibility for forestry policy to Joe Walsh,TD the Minister for Agriculture and Food in January 2004 initially re-energised the sector. Mary Coughlan, TD was appointed as Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries & Food when he retired and she focussed primarily on food, REPS and related schemes. In 2008 Brendan Smith, TD took over as Minister with Tony Killeen, TD (Clare) as Minister of State with responsibility for forestry (as well as fisheries). It seems unlikely that planting levels of 20,000ha will be reached again for some years - unless the mid term review of CAP / Rural Development policy due to commence in 2008 makes significant reductions to farm subsidies or unless a new energy / climate imperative leads to directive land policy for forestry and REPS. The lower levels of planting are actually good news for those who plant now as they will be growing for a tight market!

Minister of State, Mary Wallace, TD had specific responsibility for forestry from early 2006, having been re-appointed after the 2007 general election. She, with her DAF/FS team, oversaw significant improvements in grants and premium payments, the introduction of the forest environment protection scheme (FEPS) and the introduction of a sophisticated data management system - the benefits of which are coming through; although there are some concerns that the inflexible system is there to control rather than serve. Minister Tony Killeen took over in May, 2008 took a particular interest in market development:

Minister of State, Shane McEntee, T.D., took over in April 2011 and showed strong commitment to private forestry. Sadly, he died suddenly in December 2012.

Tom Hayes TD was appointed Minister of State with responsibility for forestry in June 2013 and is a strong advocate for forestry.

We advise owners to plan early and to assume at least a couple of months for routine cases and longer where environmental aspects may arise.

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