The proposed new forestry programme represents a significant shift in forestry policy towards diversification of forest types and forest management systems.

Continuous cover forestry (CCF), in particular, is being promoted with enhanced support for the existing CCF element of the Woodland Improvement Scheme.

Also, for the first time, there is provision and support in the programme for the establishment of mixed forests with future CCF management in mind.

This follows the work of Project Woodland, in particular working group two charged with developing a “shared national approach”, and an extensive public consultation process which clearly supported a diversification of forests and the forest estate as a whole, to deliver the multiple functions of forests.

CCF in existing forests

Under the proposed new programme, the support available under the Woodland Improvement Scheme (CCF Element) has increased from €750/ha to €1,200/ha for forests being transformed to CCF management.

This payment is made three times over a 12-year period in association with the implementation of a transformation management plan prepared jointly by a forester and forest owner.

In addition to the grant increase, the new programme also proposes the payment of an annual ecosystem services premium of €150/ha for seven years.

To avail of this scheme, the forest owner needs to prepare a “transformation management plan” in conjunction with a forester which sets out the measures they intend to utilise in transforming their forest to CCF management over a 12-year period.

A further indication of the shift in policy is the support the Forest Service has provided for training foresters in the operation of the scheme.

In 2022, ProSilva Ireland with support from the Forest Service, ran two training courses specifically on how foresters and forest owners can utilise the scheme.

There are now more than 40 foresters trained in this way with a further course to be run in 2023. In tandem with this, there are a number of other ongoing CCF training initiatives across Teagasc, Coillte, ProSilva Ireland and other organisations.

Designing new CCF forests

An innovative aspect of the new programme is the inclusion of a new afforestation category specifically aimed at future CCF management(Forest Type 10).

Further guidance is expected from the Forest Service on what this might mean in terms of species and mixtures.

It is expected that it will be determined by both site type, following the principal of “the right tree in the right place” and by the owners’ objectives.

However, these forests will be designed to deliver multiple forest functions including quality timber production, biodiversity and social benefits.

An example might be where a forest on a wet mineral soil would be planted with Sitka spruce, mixed with groups of another slower growing conifer (eg western red cedar) and groups of pioneering type broadleaves (eg birch) and longer term broadleaves (eg oak).

In such a scenario, there are species included that can provide short-, medium- and long-term income while creating a permanent and more resilient forest.

It is expected that different species mixture scenarios will emerge for different site types.

The proposed supports for this category are attractive with grants of €5,421/ha and an annual premium of €912/ha.

Replacing forests with CCF

Forest owners who wish to go into CCF management but whose forests are not suitable for transformation because they have no thinning history or are potentially unstable, will also be supported.

The proposed programme includes a grant, under a pilot scheme of €1,800/ha and an annual premium of €150/ha for seven years

Assuming that these forest owners clearfell their current tree crops, they will then have the option of being supported in “Climate Resilient Reforestation” by replanting with mixed species (as outlined opposite). The proposed programme includes a grant, under a pilot scheme of €1,800/ha and an annual premium of €150/ha for seven years.

For those who wish to replant with native species only, the grant is higher with an enhanced premium depending on what category it falls into.

The assumption is that all such forests will then be managed under CCF.

There has been broad support for these proposals, particularly among ProSilva members who have welcomed the “mainstreaming” of CCF in Irish forestry and the opportunity for more forest owners to engage with continuous cover practice with obvious benefits for owners, ecology and wider society.

While there has been some concern that the target areas for the above schemes appear low, there have been assurances from the Forest Service that the schemes will be demand-led and that funding will be available beyond the attainment of initial targets.

Paddy Purser is a forestry consultant with Purser Tarleton Russell Ltd and a member and former chair of ProSilva Ireland, the NGO that advocates CCF management.