Forestry in Ireland: tax free, like an artist’s exemption? Pro Silva Ireland field day this coming Saturday

(Pro Silva Ireland field- day this coming Saturday 25th April 09, see end of post for details)

I was just about to start a post on our disastrous chipping weekend when I heard a report on RTE Radio 1 Farmweek programme  this morning (Sat 18 Apr, 09) about forestry this morning. All ears, I typed in as much of the information from the report as I could, as I expect many others find it hard to find upto date information on forestry as I do (have you ever tried looking at the Forest Service website for instance*!?). Did you know for instance that planting trees, like producing art, is tax free, in some cases,in Ireland? Please note, that this radio interview ended with a statement that grants for Irish forestry had been reduced by 8% in the recent budget.

The lively, on-site RTE radio interview started (and please forgive if I get details slightly wrong, you can add comments below) with a forester talking about a farmer who is currently participating in the new Irish Forestry Environmental Protection Scheme. This scheme started last year, it’s a top up scheme for REPS (Rural Environment Protection Scheme?) which encourages farmers to put in 15-20% land into trees. Listening to the forester, it appears that the the main objective is for biodiversity as the forester mentioned bird life, bird-boxes, creating a pond nearby to improve things for the birds that might settle in the woodland -no doubt the farmer would also have a future fuel supply as well. If I got this right, of the trees to be planted under REPS, 15% of trees planted have to be broadleaves. He also stated that the days of blanket sitka plantations in Ireland in general have gone and that 20% of other species now have to be planted.

There are two parts for forest support: 100% grant aid for the planting of the the woodlands, then a premium for the first 20 years, tax free, dependant on species though. As the forester said, this is great support if you plant the non-native, exotic species, Sitka Spruce ,which you can fell at 30-40 years, but it offers no real incentive for those interested in broadleaves, which if planted in monocultures, can have high labour costs in terms of pruning etc (he also didn’t mention that Ash and Alder have very fast growth rates). The forester recognised this should be looked at by the government again to give incentives for  planting (however, this is all based on the mainstream idea present in Ireland that it’s an either/or situation of either sitka or broadleaves, whereas EU close to nature forestry would use mixed species together for constant economic return; planting species together also reduces the labour costs required for managing broadleaves as well). Anyway, the ‘new’ scheme works out at €466/h/p.a for Sitka Spruce, €500/h/p.a for broadleaves and if the farmer is in REPS their is an additional €200 payment per year.

The RTE reporter then asked though, ‘Why is Ireland so behind in forestry if there are such supports? The forester replied that he thought that old time Irish farmers looked at forests just for waste land, whereas in the EU there is a different culture towards forestry but he believed that the growing realisation that there is money in forests would change things. My own view, since forestry is such a long term project is that we need to introduce the most uptodate, sustainable and economically long term forestry policy rather urgently.

The second part of the interview was with Paul Brosnan, representing Irish Forestry Funds (this is the second time in a month I’ve heard about the investment potential of forests in Ireland; I sat through a 40 min lecture on pension forest funds at a recent national Forest Seminar; interestingly a forester I sat with at lunch said pension fund organisations were currently buying up forested land all over the place!). Anyway, the idea with Irish Forestry Funds is that anyone can become a shareholder in a forest as an investment. ‘It’s a way of participating in forestry if you don’t have land’, he said and he talked about a commercial forest owned by 1500 shareholders. He was interviewed in one of their Spruce plantations, which is 18-19 years old. It was purchased 5 yrs ago, as a semi-mature plantation and it is currently being thinned. What type of money return? Well, against all the market turmoil, its a projected 8.2% over 12 years! I also think he mentioned the investments were tax free up to €250,000.  He also observed that over last 100 years, forestry always provided the best returns in times of depression and that new markets for chip and fuel would only increase the value of such investments. But again, in my view, this is going down the wrong road of bad land practice and treating forestry as a cash crop. If you buy into this type of scheme, you are buying into outdated, clear-felling, unsustainable forestry practice. In fact, only 5 rotations of such planting of spruce makes the land worthless (I know that is a long time away as each crop takes about 40 years but its an important point). What about a new type of rolling return investment in forestry that involves permanent forests, which offers long term economic and ecological returns.

Learn more about sustainable forestry at www.prosilvaireland.org and the EU 22 country  wide permanent close to nature forestry organisation, Pro Silva Europe (the organisation is celebrating it’s 20 year anniversary this year, in Slovenia). By the way, you can learn more about Pro Silva forest management at one of their upcoming field days in which international Pro Silva foresters come to Ireland to share their knowledge. Some Pro Silva members are in Coillte and they are hosting this day. All are welcome, €20 plus bring your own sandwiches and good boots – unfortunately, I won’t be able to make it this time.

Field Day at Curraghchase Forest Park, Foynes, Co. Limerick

Hosted by Coillte and led by Phil Morgan (Wales) and Max Bruciamacchie (Pro Silva Europe).

Curraghchase is a Coillte forest property where Continuous Cover Forestry practice is currently being implemented. There has been considerable thinning in hardwood areas in the last 2 years and we will have an opportunity to see and discuss this. Email me (cathyartATgmail.com) for directions

Pro Silva Booklet, 2009

By the way, I recently helped produce Phil Morgan’s booklet for Pro Silva, ‘What Makes Close to Nature Forest Management an attractive choice for Farmers, here it is to download psi_2009_booklet1. The publication was supported by the Dept of Ag & Food and the Forest Service – so that’s very positive and you might like to read it before you go, oh and well done RTE Farmweek too.

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