“The announcement that Coillte is to team up with the asset management group Gresham House to buy thousands of hectares of new and existing Irish forestry is clearly not in the best interest of rural Ireland and will have a negative impact on recent efforts to restore confidence nationally in farm forestry.”
Nicholas Sweetman, chairperson of Irish Forest Owners, has called on the Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue to intervene and ensure that our national investment in forestry stays with the people of Ireland and keeps this important asset in Irish hands.
Irish Forest Owners is a network of private forestry producer groups aimed at developing private forestry and private forest ownership in Ireland. Confidence among farmers in farm forestry has been greatly damaged over the past few years, with just 400 hectares of forestry planted by farmers in 2022.
“We had hoped that the New Forestry Programme, which was announced late last year and promises substantial increases in grants and premiums for afforestation, would re-engage farmers in forestry and entice them to plant. We consider this announcement will have a seriously negative impact on that endeavour.”
In the planned joint venture, the land will be owned by Gresham, with Coillte managing the forests as part of its overall forest estate. As has been admitted by Coillte, this venture is being pursued with the clear purpose of evading the rules which prevent the payment of premia and grants to the semi-state company Coillte.
“The financial supports for forestry in Ireland are paid from the National Exchequer, and instead of this money going to farmers and staying in the local economy, the forest premia and single farm payments associated with the land acquired for planting will leave the country and go to corporate investors.”
Mr Sweetman added, “The question also arises as to who will own any carbon credits arising from these new forests in the future? We could be setting a dangerous precedent whereby carbon sequestered in our forests will be traded for financial gain by foreign investors”.
“We need to plant significant areas of land to meet our Climate Action obligations but allowing a semi-state body like Coillte to promote selling land to outside investors in order that they can profit from Irish tax payer support for afforestation is absolutely NOT the way forward.”
“Instead, we need to invest heavily in building a real and sustainable forest culture in Ireland by engaging Irish farmers and landowners and integrating forestry into every farming enterprise.”
This unfortunate move will also reinforce the monopoly that Coillte has within the industry, which was never more evident than during the current licensing crisis, when Coillte felling licence applications were regularly and systematically prioritised over those from private forest owners.
The Farmers Journal: Coillte plans ‘not in the best interests of rural areas’ – forest owners
The Irish Forest Owners group accused Coillte of attempting to evade rules preventing it from drawing down State forestry funding.