Getting started in forestry in five steps
It is very important to understand what is involved when making a forestry grant application and its implications.
1. Make an appointment with your local Teagasc Forestry Adviser
Your first port of call should be your local Forestry Adviser. He or she will be able to give you objective answers to your questions. The following topics will be discussed in detail:
Grant aid eligibility
Grant aid eligibility depends on a wide range of factors. What is the soil, exposure or drainage like? If the land grows grass very well and is very sheltered, then broadleaves can be considered. If not, then your choices may be restricted to conifers. If mostly heather is present, then the land may be excluded from forestry grant aid.
Various designations such as Special Areas of Conservation, Fresh Water Pearl Mussel catchment areas, archaeological sites, etc. may also have an influence on grant aid eligibility.
Other restrictions include electricity lines and nearby houses. The presence of deer must also be taken into account.
Why are you considering planting a forest? That is a question that only you can / should answer. Each option has advantages and disadvantages:
Commercial timber crop
If you want to grow a tree crop on the farm with a decent financial return then you should consider planting (mainly) Sitka spruce. It grows fast and naturally straight – maturing in 30 to 40 years. It is able to grow well in less than perfect conditions, Irish mills are geared up for it and it provides a very decent return at the end of the rotation.
Another objective can be the creation of an ecologically rich, biodiverse native woodland. Focus is on native species, minimal site disturbance and long-term ‘close-to-nature’ management. It presents opportunities for planting in various environmentally sensitive areas such as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs).
Other establishment options
Other options such as agroforestry can / should also be considered.
Available financial support measures
It is important to understand the financial support measures that are availalble.
Interaction with other farm schemes
The following question that needs to be answered is what effect establishing a forest will have on other farm support schemes such as BPS, ANC, GLAS, etc. For instance, you may be able to continue claiming the Basic Payment on the afforested land by meeting very specific conditions.
Permanent land use change
You are changing land use and therefore the Forestry Act 2014 will apply. This means that after harvesting the timber, you will have a legal obligation to re-establish the forest. This obligation also applies to agroforestry.
You have to respect the Forestry Act 2014 (and other legislation) and adhere to all relevant grant aid regulations. It is important to understand that you, as the forest owner, have ultimate responsibility to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
2. Choose a Registered Forester
Now that you understand what is involved and the implications, you may wish to make a grant application.
To do so, you need to choose a ‘Registered Forester’. Registered Foresters work in the private sector, either as consultant foresters or employed by forestry companies. See List of Registered Foresters (PDF).
The Registered Forester will act as your agent and will make the grant application on your behalf. If the application is successful and you decide to go ahead; then the same person will continue to be involved by coordinating some or all of the work.
How to choose a Registered Forester
- Discuss your plans with a number of consultants / companies. This gives them an opportunity to explain to you what they can offer but it is equally important that you explain clearly what you want. This will help to avoid misunderstandings later on.
- Walk the land in question with each consultant / company
- Ask for references so that you can visit a similar project you have in mind in your area.
- Make sure that the consultant / company understands how other support schemes such as BPS interact with forestry.
- Ask your neighbours about their experience.
3. Make a grant application
Once you have decided on the Registered Forester you wish to work with, this person can then make a forestry grant application on your behalf, dealing with the above mentioned restrictions. The application process may take a number of months.
4. Sign a contract
When you receive forestry grant aid approval, it is time to decide if you wish to go ahead with your project.
If you decide to proceed, you also need to consider who will look after the trees for the first four years. If you have the interest, time and skills, you can do this work yourself or your Registered Forester can look after the young trees on your behalf in return for the ‘second grant’ (see Brief Overview of Forestry Grant Rates). The second grant is payable at the end of the maintnenace period (usually after four to five years).
Once these decisions have been made, it is time to sign a contract with your Registered Forester. Ensure that a sutiable written contract is in place before any work begins. It is also a good idea to refer the contract to your solicitor.
5. Monitor progress
Regardless who is looking after the trees for the first four years (you or your Registered Forester), it is important to monitor progress. Walk your forest regularly and pay particular attention to the following:
- Check drainage system regularly
- Carry out vegetation control as required
- Check fence lines regularly
- Check for browsing damage regularly
- Check stocking density and replace any dead trees in winter
- Check for nutrient deficiencies and apply fertiliser as required in April / May