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Rural Development Programme 2014-2020 Consultation Paper - A Submission from the Tree, Hedging and Forestry Growers

The nursery industry would firstly like to congratulate the Minister and his government colleagues for the introduction of the new RDP and commend their work in securing such high levels of funding from the EU. No doubt the Rural Development Programme 2014-2020 will bring many benefits to rural Ireland during a time of great economic difficulties.

Unfortunately the new Agri Environmental Scheme - GLAS, holds little for the nursery industry as we are not eligible to partake in the scheme and the elements present in REPS and AEOS, which impacted on our sector, have been in the main excluded from the new scheme.

As a group of wholesale nursery growers we represent a wide sector of Irish tree and hedge producers. We are submitting this proposal for consideration due to our concern with the new RDP and in particular the omission of any reference to hedgerow planting and the inclusion of tree planting only in Tier 2 of the proposed GLAS scheme.

Environment effects of inclusion of Hedgerow and Tree Planting:

Ireland hedgerows are recognised as the main habitat on most Irish farms, sustaining an immense range of flora and fauna, 55 of our 100 rural bird species nest in hedgerows. They are corridors which aid the movement and dispersal of plants and animals throughout the landscape. It is estimated that hedgerows cover 1.5% of the land, almost three times the land covered by native woodlands. The Ag-Biota project, a five year study by UCD on behalf of the EPA, found, "where the ecological quality of the hedgerows has been reduced due to intensification of farming, there has been a marked decline in the diversity of bird species during the breeding season'. The study also revealed a significant increase in habitat and a farms REPS status and was seen as evidence of a very positive influence of REPS policy on farm hedge rows. The protection and maintenance of hedgerows as an important landscape feature for wild native flora and fauna is required under the EU habitats directive.

The Celtic Tiger era, however, has taken a huge toll, resulting in the destruction of countless thousands of kilometers of hedgerows to make way for roads, housing estates, private houses, shopping centres and other development. It is estimated that from 1997-2006 we lost over 420km of hedgerow per year. Whole fields where there used to be sheep or cattle are now colonised by houses, with hedgerows replaced by concrete block walls, post-and-rail fences, elaborate stone walls and neo- classical balustrades.

Including a planting option in Tier 1 of the proposal ticks all the environmental boxes while achieving many of the aims set out by scheme.

  • Restoring, preserving and enhancing ecosystems
  • Supports a shift towards low carbon and climate resilient economy.
  • Preservation of priority habitats and species
  • Halting the loss of biodiversity by 2020 as set out in the habitats Directive

Planting trees is synonymous with the word Green, while also proven to be the most direct way of reducing carbon. Native hedgerows have enhanced the appearance of many farms under REPS and AEOS and are the natural and green alternative to stake's and wire fencing.

The biggest advantage from an environmental point of view is that native tree and hedgerow planting is a permanent measure, as a planted tree is there a lifetime.

Hedgerow planting was the most popular biodiversity option selected by farmers in REPS, this resulted in over 2,800km of hedge rejuvenation, a process that needs to be on going to ensure the preservation of our natural heritage. We cannot suddenly stop this process and let our hedgerows decline further.

Rural Employment in the Nursery Sector and the RPD:

Under REPS and AEOS tree and hedgerow establishment were very successful in both creating and maintaining employment in both the Nursery and Landscaping sectors. These are long term rural jobs which are sustainable and nursery employment has now reached 1,144 full time with a further 849 part time jobs.

The years of experience and expertise which came off the back of the previous schemes, will be lost now if hedgerow and tree planting are not an integral part of any new scheme. The Irish Nurseries had to move quickly in order to catch up and keep up with both REPS and AEOS requirements. Encouraged by the previous REPS and AEOS schemes, Irish nurseries have continued production of hedging and young trees in readiness for any new scheme and are paused ready to supply.

In the event of native hedgerows being omitted from Tier 1 of the new Glas scheme, it will have a huge detrimental impact on existing nursery jobs. In order to produce a hedging plant of Whitethorn, there is a 4 year lead in period from seed collection to saleable 2 year old transplant. To produce a tree of girth 6-8cm can take up to 6 years. Many nurseries have significant numbers of plants in production primarily for the GLAS/REPS markets. Should this market not materialise then the nurseries are without doubt facing large job losses and the inevitable job creation of including trees and hedgerows in the scheme will also be lost.

If 10% of the 50,000 applicants to GLAS were to plant 200 metres of hedging, this would equate to 1,000 plants each. 5,000 participants x 1,000 plants = 5,000,000. At a value of approximately €1 each supplied and planted, this would sustain 100 full time jobs. This doesn't take into account the benefits of including young tree planting into the scheme which would greatly increase the number of jobs created.

Ash Die Back - A missed opportunity?

With over 100 identified outbreaks of Chalara in the Republic and given the numbers of Ash planted in the last 10 years, it would unfortunately seem that the eradication of the disease, even given the first-rate work of the department, will be very difficult.

We are facing a future where the countries number one rural tree will be devastated over the next 15-20 years. The losses in countries such as Denmark and Eastern European states have been in excess of 68% of all mature Ash. This will denude the rural landscape in Ireland and threaten the biodiversity of all Irish farms.

The opportunity to avoid this is now in our hands. The GLAS scheme offers a platform to roll out a replacement planting programme of rural Ireland that would ensure the future of the Irish landscape.

Apart from the obvious benefits, any government that implements such a programme will be lauded as saviours by the environmental lobby and will prove their green credentials to an ever growing environmentally aware voter.

Inclusion of such a programme in the Tier 1 section of GLAS would encourage farmers and custodians of the landscape to plant replacement trees and help meet the criteria outlined by the various EU environmental directives and help to meet our targets on CO2 emissions.

The Nursery Industry needs a helping hand.

Everyone involved in horticulture knows the dreadful situation Irish nurseries now find themselves in. Many are still struggling after the winters of 2009-2011 where we lost in excess of €5m and received no compensation. This coincided with the beginning of the economic downturn that slashed demand and left many companies carrying large bad debts due to the failure of construction companies and developers. Then we had the catastrophe of Ash Die Back leaving over €7m of unsalable plants throughout the Irish nurseries. We have received no compensation to date for these plants and will have to foot the bill for disposal without any government help.

During REPS and AEOS over 2.8m trees were planted - Teagasc statistics. All these plants were sold by Irish nurseries and many had increased production to supply these schemes and reduce imports. When the environmental schemes ceased the loss to rural nurseries and garden centres was incalculable. Many of these small operations depended on the income from these schemes to sustain their business throughout the winter.

When the schemes were in full swing over 5m Whitethorn plants were sold each year. To plant this many thorn alone represents 20,000 man days per year. So the effect on rural employment is quite significant when one considers the selling, delivery, planting and maintaining of hedgerows.

Submitted on behalf of:

  • The Kildare Growers, Kildare - Irelands largest Nursery Stock Grower Group
  • Woodstock Trees and Shrubs, Kildare
  • Woodview Nurseries, Kildare
  • Flannery's Nurseries, Kildare
  • Derrylea Trees, Kildare
  • ALCI - National body representing over 100 professional landscape contractors.
  • Annaveigh Nurseries, Tipperary
  • Alley Nurseries, Tipperary
  • SAP Nurseries, Tipperary
  • Grangemore Nurseries, Tipperary
  • Kearney's Nurseries, Tipperary
  • Ryan's Nurseries, Tipperary
  • Nangle& Niesen Nurseries, Cork
  • Fermoy Woodland Nurseries, Cork
  • Fana Nurseries, Cork
  • Barry's Nursery, Cork
  • Future Forests Nurseries, Cork
  • None So Hardy Nursery, Wicklow
  • Kelly's Nurseries, Westmeath
  • Lough Corrib Nurseries, Galway
  • M+M Nursery, Offaly
  • Hawthorn Nurseries, Clare
  • Turlough Nurseries, Mayo
  • Hylands Nurseries, Wexford
  • Forestry Services Ltd, Kilkenny
  • Yellow Furze Nurseries, Meath

Source: HortiTrends News Room