Premier Woodlands’ managing director, John Hetherington, has expressed frustration at the time its taking the Forest Service in Northern Ireland to process forestry applications for the 2021 Forest Expansion Scheme (FES).

He explained: “The closing date for this year’s applications was set at July 31, a month earlier than was originally the case.

It was then expected that letters of offer would be issued by the Forest Service at the beginning of November, thereby giving those wanting to go ahead with an FES-aided project the bulk of the 2021/22 planting season to get on with the work in hand.

“We are now at the beginning of December and the letters of offer have yet to be issued. It is envisaged that correspondences to FES applicants will be sent out over the coming days, he added.

“But this is highly unsatisfactory. By the time that the letters of offer are confirmed and approved, it could well be the end of January before the required field preparation and planting work can commence."

He explained that except in agreed circumstances, all the required FES-related work must be completed before May 15, after which claims must be submitted as part of the Single Application Form, or SAF.

I see no reason why Forest Service cannot come up with measures that would allow those committing to FES an entire planting season to get on with the work.”

The Premier Woodlands’ director feels strongly that there should be an open application period for all forestry and woodland related development schemes.

He added: “Within this scenario, Forest Service could quite easily group applications together at particular times of the year to help spread their workload.”

Continuation of forestry scheme

Hetherington also confirmed that FES is expected to continue through until December 2023.

“This is a good news story for the forestry sector, as is the continuing success of the small woodland grant scheme," he said.

But we need to see a real commitment on the part of Northern Ireland’s farm minister to allow forestry development to really work for farmers.

“This means coming up with a new and dynamic forest development scheme beyond 2023.

Farmers realise the potential that trees have to offer when it comes to sequestering carbon. But they need access to genuine long-term support when it comes to converting all of this potential into reality.”

According to the Premier Woodlands’ representative, timber prices remain strong. And the outlook remains equally bullish.

“Northern Ireland is only circa 20% self sufficient overall in timber and wood products,” he commented.

Presently, all timber income generated from a commercial forestry enterprise is free of all forms of taxation.”

But the Premier Woodlands' forester ended on a note of caution: “The tax exemption rules as interpreted by the Inland Revenue are on the basis of trees being managed as a commercial crop with a view to a profit.

“There have been recent cases of the tax authorities seeking confirmation and evidence that plantations have actually been managed with this objective in mind.

“Quite a number of plantations across Northern Ireland are now coming to an age when trees can be commercially harvested," he said.