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From Left to Right: Pat Geoghegan, John Egan and Sylvia Greene protest outside the gates of Leinster House on Wednesday. Cormac Fitzgerald/TheJournal.i e
ash dieback

'We're the custodians of the land': Forest owners say land 'is valueless' after ash dieback

Protestors outside Leinster House this week took issue with a Government compensation package.

JOHN EGAN PLANTED about 30 acres worth of ash trees 20 years ago on his land in Tynagh in east Galway. Egan saw the plantation as a retirement plan. 

At the time, farmers and landowners were being incentivised to increase the forest cover on their land. Ash was positioned as a solid choice: grow the trees for about 20-30 years and then when they are mature, chop them down to sell the wood.

Wood from the ash – a native Irish tree – is sturdy and durable, and is the wood of choice for the hurley. It is estimated that there is a demand of 300,000-400,000 hurleys annually in Ireland.

Growing ash was seen as a sure thing. Egan saw it as his pension. But it didn’t work out that way.

“I’ve 30 acres or thereabouts of ash planted and it’s useless. The timber is falling over. It’s rotten,” Egan told TheJournal outside the Dáil on Wednesday.

“And [the Government] are not giving us anyway near adequate compensation. We should be making money now, instead our land is valueless.”

Egan was one of dozens of protestors standing outside the gates of Leinster House, highlighting their issues with a Government scheme to compensate forest owners for ash dieback.

Ash dieback is a serious disease of ash trees that is caused by the fungus Hymenoscyphus fraxineus. The disease first emerged in Europe in the 1990s and has spread across the continent via wind-borne spores and the transportation of infected young trees.

Ash trees have been monitored in Ireland since 2008 and the disease was first detected in 2012. It’s believed that the disease came to Ireland via infected imported saplings.

Once the fungus infects a tree, the dead or dying branches become brittle and fall. Over time, the tree loses nutrition, water and the leaves which produce its food, which ends up killing the tree. The disease now affects approximately 16,000 hectares of ash forests in Ireland.

“National emergency”

An independent review last year labelled the issue a “national emergency requiring a national and State-led coordinated response”.

Earlier this month, Cabinet approved a €80 million compensation scheme. The scheme will offer €2000 per hectare to foresters to clear the ash from their lands, as as well a payment of €5,000 per hectare to owners who have fully engaged with the Agriculture Department’s reconstitution schemes.

But Egan and other say it’s not nearly enough.

“I’m going to have to borrow money if I have to take it out and redo it. I can’t afford to do it for a start and I’m too old to do it as well,” Egan said.

Another protestor – Sylvia Greene from Tipperary – has 32 acres of 25-year-old ash forest that should be ready for harvesting.

“We should be selling wood for hurleys now and we can’t sell anything because it’s diseased and the compensation doesn’t pay to take the trees out and replant because they’re big trees,” she said.

“It’s alright for forests that are young forests, but for the more mature forests it doesn’t cover the costs and we have no compensation.

With forestry it’s a longterm process, you don’t make much money in the early years and now it’s 25 years old, we expect to get an income and it’s gone and the compensation just doesn’t cover it.

Protestors do not believe that the uniform compensation package supports people with older forests and that it should be revised.

Simon White, chair of the Limerick and Tipperary Woodland Owners (LTWO), previously told The Journal that an individual approach needs to be taken rather than a “catch-all” scheme.

Speaking outside Leinster House this week, White said:

“We’re here today this is out chance to protest that what is being put forward after all these months… is a complete and utter waste of time it’s not effective.

It’s totally inequitable. Because it’s a one fix fits all and it doesn’t fit all. Because what may be for a young plantation, it’s nothing to do with size, it’s all to do with the age of the plantation, won’t work for an old.

Previously speaking to TheJournal, White said €5,000 per hectare was nowhere near enough for someone with an older plantation.

“So a catch-all of €5,000 per hectare might suit [a farmer with a younger plantation] but you can’t have a catch-all for everybody when you have somebody who’s got 12-year-old plants, and others who have planted in the 90s.”

Also speaking at the protest, Pat Geoghegan from Tynagh, said landowners were mentally suffering as a result of the issues, and that many would never consider forestry again.

“We’re the custodians of the land, trying to keep the land for generation to come,” he said.

“We did it 20 years ago when there was no talk about in this country in relation to greenhouse gas emissions. And here they are telling us to go, they’re pushing us aside.

We’re just ordinary people that need a bit of respect.

The Department of Agriculture has been approached for comment.

With reporting from Diarmuid Pepper 

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