Forestry development companies are calling for clarification on future tree planting schemes that will be made available in Northern Ireland.

The current measures – the Forestry Expansion Scheme (FES) and the Small Woodland Grant Scheme (SWGS), have now run their course.

As of yet, neither the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) or Northern Ireland’s Forest Service, have given any public indication as to the type of support measures that will be available to support tree planting into the future.

Managing director of Premier Woodlands, John Hetherington, said:

“We need to see a fundamental commitment from Forest Service to deliver new support schemes that will deliver a sustainable short, medium and long-term expansion of the forestry sector in Northern Ireland.

“This objective is a strategic commitment, already referenced within Northern Ireland’s climate change regulations, NI Government Forest Policy and the previous Agricultural Minister’s Forests of the Future initiative.

“Specific tree planting targets are already in place – we need to see real policies and a financial commitment to match from Forest Service in order to make all of this happen.

“The clock is ticking. Simply rolling over FES, or some form of comparable scheme for a 12-month period, won’t suffice. Woodland creation decisions are long-term decisions.”

Development policies

Hetherington stressed the importance of “getting the basics right as well”.

He continued: “Forest Service is currently committed to forest-to-bog restoration on significant parts of its estate, again under the new climate change regulations.

“In light of these developments, it should be made mandatory for the agency to compensatory plant new areas equivalent to those lost in this way, simply to keep our overall woodland cover maintained at current levels.

“The same principle should hold in cases of any development removing NI`s woodland cover.

“This principle has been followed in Scotland since 2009/2010, I see no reason why the same approach cannot be taken here in Northern Ireland.”

Meanwhile, tree planting under the 2023/24 FES measure continues apace, after what can only be described as one of the most difficult woodland establishment seasons in living memory.

“We should be able to work through until about the middle of June. After that it’s a case of taking a break during the summer and finishing the projects later in the autumn/winter,” the managing director added.

Premier Woodlands is confirming that Forest Service has agreed grant claim extensions where requested, for either individual forest operations or complete FES planting contracts.