Getting started in forestry in five steps
It is very important to understand what is involved when establishing a forest or when making a forestry grant application.
1. Make an appointment with your local Teagasc Forestry Adviser
Your first port of call should be your local Forestry Adviser. S/he will be able to give you objective answers to your questions:
- Is (some of) my land suitable for establishing a forest?
- Are there environmental restrictions on my land, e.g. Special Areas of Conservation, Special Protection Areas, etc.
- Do any other restrictions limit my planting options, e.g. acid sensitive area, electricity lines, nearby houses, deer, etc.?
- Have I decided what I want from my new forest, e.g. production of commercial timber, creating a native woodland or combining farming with growing trees (i.e. agroforestry)?
- Which Forest Type category (FT) will suit my land and objectives best?
- Will planting optimise returns from my family farm into the future?
- What proportion of my land should I plant?
- How will planting interact with the BISS, CRISS, CIS-YF, ACRES, ANC Schemes, etc.
- Am I aware that the switch to forestry is a permanent land use change?
Financial support measures
The Afforestation Scheme 2023-2027 provides a wide range of forest creation measures:
- The Native Tree Area Scheme (NTA 1 & 2) supports the creation of small native forests of up to one hectare on farms. An afforestation licence is not required.
- The Forest Types 1 to 12 grant categories support a wide range of diverse forests with varying objectives. This scheme is open to both farmers and non-farmers. An afforestation licence will be required.
Further information on forest types and grant rates can be found here: Brief overview of forest establishment grant rates.
The programme is administered by the Forestry Division of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM).
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 BISS, CRISS, CIS-YF, ACRES, ANC, etc. For instance, you may be able to continue claiming the Basic Income Support for Sustainability (BISS) Scheme payment on the afforested land by meeting very strict and specific conditions.
Forests established and maintained in accordance with the Afforestation Scheme 2023-2027 will be eligible for an annual premium payment for a period of up to 20 years for farmers and 15 years for non-farmers. Will you be able to meet the definition of a farmer?
The Forestry Act 2014 will apply when creating or managing a forest. This means that
- an Afforestation Licence is required for afforestation projects where the area involved is greater than 0.10 hectares (approximately 0.25 acres). The only exception is the Native Tree Area Scheme: an afforestation licence will not be required.
- a Forest Road Works Licence is required to carry out forest road works.
- a Felling Licence is required to fell or otherwise remove a tree or trees and to thin a forest for management reasons. A replanting obligation applies. This obligation also applies to agroforestry.
- an Aerial Fertilisation Licence is required to carry out aerial fertilisation.
You have to respect the Forestry Act 2014, other relevant legislation and adhere to grant aid regulations / conditions. It is important to understand that you, as the forest owner, have ultimate responsibility to DAFM.
2. Choose a Registered Forester
Preplanting applications must be prepared by a 'Registered Forester'. Registered Foresters are professional foresters, working either as consultant foresters or employed by forestry companies. They are registered with DAFM and authorised to submit forestry grant scheme applications. See List of Registered Foresters (PDF).
The Registered Forester will act as your agent making the 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 BISS interact with forestry.
- Ask your neighbours about their experience.
3. Sign a contract
Ensure that you have a robust written contract with your Registered Forester in place clearly setting out your chosen preferences as described below. Contracts should be referred to a solicitor. DAFM sets the standards of the Afforestation Scheme and approves grant and premium payments.
Now that you understand what is involved and the implications, you may wish to make an application for technical approval.
4. Make an application
Preplanting applications are submitted to DAFM and technical approval may be issued following assessment (see Afforestation - legal requirements for further details). Establishment operations can begin only once subsequent financial approval has been obtained.
As it can take a substantial period of time for the application to be processed, make sure to apply for planting approval well in advance. Include any areas you are unsure of in the application, as you can plant as much or as little of the area that receives approval afterwards.
When making an application, you need to decide which option suits you best. The option you choose should reflect your circumstances and the amount of time you can allocate to planning, organising and doing the work. It is important that your investment is managed to the highest standards to ensure you reap the rewards as the trees mature.
- Option 1: Organise the establishment work yourself.
This is the most hands-on option, so you must invest time in gaining a good knowledge of forest establishment and management techniques.
- Option 2: Hire a Registered Forester to organise some or all of the establishment work.
The Registered Forester will coordinate some or all of the work, as they will have knowledge of subcontractors and machine operators and can source trees and other materials.
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 forest establishment grant rates). The second grant is payable at the end of the maintenance period (usually after four to five years).
No matter which option you choose, all paperwork at pre-planting, post-planting and at the second instalment stage must be prepared by a Registered Forester working on your behalf.
5. Monitor progress
Regardless who is establishing and/or managing 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
- Check that surrounding vegetation is under control
- 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
You are responsible!
Prior to the payment of the second grant at Year 4, you, as the forest owner, must be satisfied that the forest has been maintained in accordance with best forest practice and only if you are happy with your forest should you sign the relevant form (Form 3).
No matter which option you choose, the DAFM forestry inspector will assess a sample of sites at pre-approval stage, post-planting stage and at year 4 stage, so do not assume that standards have been checked by a DAFM forestry inspector.
Planting land is a major decision and you should be satisfied that the establishment option you choose is right for you.
Talk to your local Teagasc Forestry Adviser who will help you with free, independent and objective advice.
It is important to keep in mind that you, as the applicant, have ultimate responsibility to DAFM for your forest.
Insurance against potential hazards such as fire and windthrow and / or the replanting obligation should be considered to protect your investment.
A properly established farm forest contributes to farm viability and sustainability. It benefits the environment, mitigates GHG emissions and can provide a source of renewable energy.
In addition, it represents an appreciating tax-efficient asset, a good pension scheme for you, and a valuable inheritance for future generations. It will also help support your local rural community and economy.
Ongoing active management is critical for success.