Oral Questions – Agriculture – Native forests and flooding

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Clare asked the Minister for Agriculture whether he has any plans to provide for the re-introduction of native trees and hedgerows on uplands as flood-prevention measure. Unfortunately her question wasn’t selected from the lottery, so she didn’t have a chance to debate the issue with the Minister, but you can read his reply below.

To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he has taken note of the findings of the Pontbren Project in Wales which found that the re-instatement of native trees and hedgerows on uplands substantially reduced flooding lower down; if he will apply the lessons of this project in an Irish context and encourage Irish farmers to take similar steps to those taken by that in Pontbren project.
– Clare Daly.

For ORAL answer on Thursday, 21st January, 2016.

Ref No: 2199/16 Lottery: 18 Proof: 18

REPLY

The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine : (Simon Coveney)
Reducing floodwater is a complex multi-faceted issue, and appropriately sited and well-designed and managed woodlands and forests can play an important role as part of any wider solution within catchments.

My Department is aware of the experiences of the Pontbren Project as referred to by the Deputy, which relates primarily to native woodland. My Department is also aware of other findings, such as those outlined in the recent report compiled by Forest Research and Confor in the UK, which explores the role of productive woodlands in water management. The Pontbren Project and the Forest Research/Confor report both explore ways in which appropriately sited and well-designed and managed woodlands and forests can contribute to the control of floodwater, through canopy interception, the use of water by the trees themselves, and the higher infiltration rates and greater storage capacity within forest soils. While these different mechanisms vary depending on the type of forest and the season, they underline the importance of forest land use as part of any wider solution to floodwater control.

My Department operates a Forestry Programme that provides funding for the creation and management of a wide range of forest and woodland types, in order to realise the variety of environmental, economic and social benefits and services forest development brings. Various measures under the programme can be used strategically as part of a wider response within a catchment. These include the following:

Ø The Afforestation Scheme, which can be used to deliver appropriately sited, and well-designed and managed forests and woodlands ranging from more productive-focused forests to agro-forestry plantations to more biodiversity-focused native woodlands. Grant aid under the scheme is designed to cover the cost of establishment, and annual premiums are payable for up to 15 years. The Afforestation Scheme can deliver a range of forest and woodland types in both upland and lowland areas, delivering floodwater management as one of many ‘eco-system services’.

Ø The Native Woodland Conservation Scheme, which can be used to convert conifer forests alongside watercourses, into native woodland. This scheme provides grant aid (along with a 7-year premium, for private woodland owners) to undertake the appropriate restoration of existing woodlands, and also, the conversion of conifer forest in to native woodland. Converting existing conifer forests into native woodland at strategic points along watercourses, accompanied by drain-blocking and other site restoration measures, can help reduce the risk of flooding by providing areas for inundation during periods of high flow.

Ø The Environmental Enhancement of Forests Scheme, which is due for launch in 2016, will provide financial support to forest holders to enhance the environmental functioning of existing forests, by funding measures such as the creation and enhancement of water setbacks and the appropriate blocking-off of existing forest drains.

Total funding for forestry development in 2016 is €114 million, which represents an increase from the 2015 budget which stood at €111 million. I would encourage landowners to take up the schemes available and to develop forests on their lands, particularly in parts of the catchment where the strategic positioning of woodlands and forests of different types can help to slow down the flow of water to flood-prone areas.