We encourage you to use this message as a template and to contact your Local TD. If this arrangement isn’t stopped, it will be expanded. We must not allow that to happen.
In November last year, the Irish Government announced the largest state investment into tree planting with Minister Hackett affirming “the biggest and best-funded Forestry Programme ever”. Over €1.3 billion was committed to “re-engage farmers in afforestation” by offering between 46%-66% increases in both grant and premium rates per hectare.
There was hope that this new Forestry Programme 2023-2027, which was developed with vibrant public consultation, would remediate the legacy issues of previous policies:
- Over 70% of Irish forestry is in conifer plantations (primarily North American spruce) which, although fast growing and easy to harvest, provide NO FUNCTIONAL BIODIVERSITY for native wildlife during their lifetime. Despite increased forestry cover, most of Ireland’s forests are ecological deserts.
- Over 40% of Irish Forestry is on peatland soil which are carbon rich wetlands and by draining and degradation, may emit more carbon than they sequester (EPA Report no.401).
- Farmers were abandoned after the Ash Dieback fungal pathogen destroyed their plantations in 2012- creating greater diversity in tree plantations would reduce risk of total crop failure.
This lucrative forestry programme was not missed by London-based Gresham House Fund which is currently assembling a €200 million QIAIF alternative investment fund from investors to buy land in Ireland to avail of these lucrative financial supports.
The Managing Director of the Fund claimed that their intention is to make “a meaningful contribution to Ireland’s crucial afforestation ambitions” however, it is likely this fund is motivated by the premiums which promise a considerable return on investment:
100,000ha of forestry to include only 20% native broadleaf species equals €62,750,000 in premiums per year or €1,255,000,000 after 20 years: a 600% return on investment before harvesting the crop.
What’s more, Joe O’Carroll, the Forestry Investment Director with Gresham House, stated on RTE 1’s Countrywide Saturday 14/01/23, that the fund would primarily derive a return on its assets through the sale of timber produced. The fund will remain invested for a minimum of 15 years with the option to extend a further 5. After this time the fund may dispose of the assets as they wish.
In the eyes of investors who, due to the structure of the fund, will not pay capital gains tax on their profits, this is an exciting long-term business venture. It is clear that the primary objective of such an investment fund is of course to maximise the return on investment of its shareholders. But this isn’t just a matter of sound business decisions: this is the future of Ireland.
What is profitable in business should not be the sole deciding factor in matters that are so important to the future of this land and all who reside within it. If this fund is successful, then it is likely that it will be expanded. Ireland may be bought-up piecemeal, diminishing lands available to farmers.
These premiums, provided by the National Exchequer, are intended for Irish landowners and should be going into rural Ireland rather than private investment funds. The Irish Government, before enacting new policy this year, must ensure that premiums can not be taken by corporate investors.
It is not surprising that investors in this fund, including a local pension fund for Berkshire (UK) and Canaccord Genuity Wealth Management (UK), are seeking profit; that’s their only key performance indicator. What is surprising is the role of the state-owned forestry business in this land-grab; although the deal is in “advanced stages”, Collite have stated they’re not “in a position to respond to speculation”.
There are constitutional concerns which, in a healthy Republic, should be addressed: the Proclamation of Independence declares “the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland” yet this state-owned forestry business would willingly allow the sell 1.4% of Ireland to a Foreign Fund without any public consultation.
The actions of Coillte are a liability to the well-being of the State and new restrictions must be put in place on the state-owned body to ensure that such deals, which contravene the interest of posterity, are prohibited.
Coillte’s objective is to achieve afforestation targets by 2050. We present here some suggestions which do not require selling an area half the size of Dublin:
- New Forestry Programme premiums, which are enticing foreign investors, will be available to farmers within a few months. The scheme must be advertised to landowners. It’s notable that conifer plantations make a poor crop: most are used for sawdust. Native hardwoods take longer to grow but they’re considerably more valuable. Also, during their lifetime, they will bring the birdsong of old Ireland and give their children more than just timber.
- The Neighbourwood Scheme grant existed in the last Forestry Programme to support community planting on Public Land. This scheme was severely underutilized because the public does not have access to public land folios. For example, there is 300-acres of land outside Kells (Meath) which is technically owned by the town but in the custodianship of the County Council who rent the fields for grazing. The town could create a new community woodland which would become a wonderful amenity. If public land folios were made public then local communities could choose whether they want a native woodland: imagine if these spaces were made available during Lockdowns.
- Irish water quality is declining with agriculture being a primary pressure. Utilizing forestry buffers along waterways in areas of intensified agriculture will protect the water from farm runoff. This requires good inter-departmental communication between the EPA and Forestry Service. Utilizing forestry as a Nature Based Solution will simultaneously protect our waterways and increase forestry cover.
Let us work together to make this Island a land of forests again, a beacon to the rest of the world of how the place with the lowest biodiversity globally became the highest in a generation. In our lifetimes we have seen the rapid progression of Ireland, we are an international success story on so many fronts, let’s continue this trend to our forests.