The latest public-p rivate native woodland funding scheme is window-dressing to cover up the State’s decades-old failed forestry policy, warns environmental coalition.
The call from the Environmental Pillar follows last week’s launch of a public – private fund to support businesses in partnering with the Government and Irish landowners in the creation of native woodlands. 
The Woodland Environmental Fund, the Department of Agriculture says, will boost plans to plant an additional three million native trees between now and 2020.
This equates to only 900 hectares (ha) – the same figure as the State’s Native Woodland Scheme target for 2015-2016, only one-third of which was actually planted. 
The private target (160ha) under the Native Woodland Conservation scheme fared even worse for the same period, with no trees planted, while no area was brought into conservation management under the Public Native Woodland Conservation scheme despite the 340 ha target. 
This is a shocking indictment of the State’s true commitment to native tree species and woodlands, the bedrock of our land-based biodiversity on this Island.
We must therefore question why the Government has not prioritised action to safeguard our vulnerable ancient oak woods that now make up only around 1 per cent of our tree cover, highlighting the hypocrisy of this latest native woodland announcement. 
In place of political platitudes and short term fixes, the Pillar want to see real leadership on this issue of public importance by ensuring that the State forestry company Coillte prioritises native woodland planting in the right place on public lands.
Coillte is in charge of the State’s largest public land bank – seven per cent of the land mass – yet the majority of its sites are non-native conifers designed for clear fell that relies on highly toxic pesticide use after clearfelling to control a naturally occurring pine weevil.
The environmental cost, disruption to ecosystem services and long-term damage to soils and water as a result of this silvicultural system is not accounted for on the minus side of our ‘Natural Capital’ balance sheet. 
In addition, a 2011 review of state assets determined that a large chuck of Coillte’s land bank used for commercial forest is not commercially viable, and could therefore be used for the development of native woodlands.  
Even with huge taxpayer-funded incentives for private planting and planting by Coillte, afforestation rates have fallen from over 20,000ha in the late 1990s to around 6,000ha in recent years, the lowest figures in decades, with early indications of only reaching 4.000 ha this year.  
COFORD have stated that we need to plant a minimum of 15,000ha per year up to 2030 to sustain our forest estate’s climate change benefits, among other uses in energy and construction. 
We are headed for a deforestation scenario with poor planting rates combined with ongoing high harvesting rates of non-native conifer plantations.
If we continue with this business as usual model, a small-scale public-private fund isn’t going to do anything to counter this impending disaster.
In addition, the volunteer ‘Natural Capital Facilitators’ aspect of the WEF scheme appears to be using the Native Woodland Scheme Afforestation measure as an experimental ground for testing some form of payment for ‘ecosystem services’ / carbon storage, which are likely to appear in the next round of CAP, but the added layer of bureaucracy are likely to lead to inevitable delays and uncertainty for contractors, landowners and nurseries.
However, a reading of the 42-page WEF document suggests that the added layers of bureaucracy is likely to lead to inevitable delays and uncertainty for contractors, landowners and nurseries. 
Environmental Pillar tree cover spokesperson, Andrew St. Ledger, said:
“This new scheme outlined by the Government last week may sound like a positive step but in reality it is a well worked spiel to assuage public concerns over the crisis in native woodlands creation, restoration or enhancement and give the impression of genuine action.
“Rather than welcoming such as move, we should be asking why the State is reneging or removing itself from responsibility for its own forest policy, and its EU and UN forestry management commitments, which include a sizable native woodlands remit.
“The state has failed to implement the objectives of the EU approved Forestry Programme that has performed miserably in improving biodiversity, water quality, community inclusion, renewable energy and farm forestry, all criteria essential to show the EU that continued spending of public funding is justified.
“It would appear that this new scheme is simply more window dressing to cover up a failing and short-sighted State forestry policy that is not fit for purpose especially in relation to its climate change mitigation claims.
“Instead, we need the State to ensure that Coillte prioritizes the planting of native trees and biodiversity-rich woodlands in the right place to ensure that we harness the full potential of the public forest resource for the public good.
“This should be the first port of call rather than relying on corporate sponsorship for an aspirational planting scheme that may not actually occur and hoping that the corporate sector will fix the State’s problem.”
“The Pillar also has grave concerns regarding the approval by the Minister for Agriculture and the Forest Service for Dutch oak seed to be used in the Native Woodland Scheme and call on the Minister to halt the importation of seeds immediately.
“The shortfall in native oak can easily be compensated by the use of the more prolific and useful native trees like birch, alder, and rowan, together with our excellent native conifer, the scots pine, until native oak becomes available again. 
“This has the potential to be as disastrous for our native oak as ash dieback disease – caused by importing ash trees from Europe – is for our native ash trees.
“There are serious questions to be asked about this new scheme such as if funding will also be released to encourage Irish nurseries to propagate enough native trees and what guarantees are in place to ensure that the existing native woodland grants won’t change over time, leaving nurseries with massive losses due to a decline in demand for their native stock.
“As a shareholder in Coillte on behalf of the people of Ireland, the Minister for Agriculture needs to intervene now and ensure that there is proper forestry regulation, enforcement and sensible policy to support our precious threatened native woodland natural resources.”
 Woodland Environmental Fund: https://goo.gl/Ry3nXp
 Forestry Programme 2014 – 2020 Mid Term Review: https://goo.gl/epg4qp
 Forestry Programme 2014 – 2020 Mid Term Review: https://goo.gl/epg4qp
 The Public Native Woodland Conservation scheme includes ancient woodlands in care of the State, the most valuable land based habitat for biodiversity and woodland habitat and genetic oak/yew seed banks. The scheme was unavailable from 2008 and remained closed until late 2015 when it was too late to put in applications in the 2015-2016 period: https://goo.gl/epg4qp
 National Parks & Wildlife Service, 2012, Ireland’s Woodland Heritage : https://goo.gl/6HKb5g
 Natural Capital is the elements of nature that produce value – directly and indirectly – to people, such as the stocks of forests, rivers, soil, minerals and oceans. Natural Capital Accountancy inspired by the relatively new field of ‘Ecological Economics’ is beginning to emerge as a key part of EU and individual state planning frameworks: http://www.naturalcapitalireland.com
[7 Report of the Review Group on State Assets and Liabilities, 2011: https://goo.gl/oxpuVz
 The McCarthy also condemned the 0.4 per cent annual return from forestry which he noted in comparison to an expected return of 2.5 per cent minimum from similar forestry operations. This is particularly pertinent in light of the fact that 80 per cent of Coillte’s wood pulp market is in the UK , with 40,000 truck journeys per year, adding considerably to their Carbon footprint. With a hard Brexit scenario looming, this may be devastating for this non-native forestry model .
 The Forest Statistics – Ireland 2017: https://goo.gl/1bfQS8
 The 4,000 ha afforestation forecasted figure is based on planting applications from the Forestry Programme implementation group as of May 23, 2018.
 Coford. 2014. Irish Forests and Climate Change: https://goo.gl/rStrEJ
 Natural Capital Coalition, 2016. Natural Capital and Farming like Peas in a Pod: https://goo.gl/H5WxWX
 Woodland Environmental Fund, 2018. https://goo.gl/i4Vemp
 A Coford study into the genetics of Irish oaks shows that they originated from only one area, the Iberian refuge after the Ice Age. Other countries have a mix of genes from three glacial refuges: https://goo.gl/v2FccB
About the Environmental Pillar
The Environmental Pillar is a national social partner of national environmental organisations. It works to promote the protection and enhancement of the environment, together with the creation of a viable economy and a just society, without compromising the viability of the planet for current and future generations of all species and ecosystems.