SERIOUS concerns have been raised among the farming community about plans by government to allow a UK investment company to fund the purchase of Irish farmland for forestry and private forestry plantations in partnership with Coillte. At present Donegal has some 900 privately owned forest plots.
Farmers and foresters across the country are objecting to the deal which will see London head quartered asset management company Gresham House work with Coillte to roll out the new ‘Irish Strategic Forestry Fund’.
Coillte have said the amount of land involved only amounts to 3.5 per cent of the 100,000 hectares Coillte intends to plant, and one per cent of the Government’s overall national target.
The Donegal News spoke to Ross Buchanan, the IFA Forestry representative in Donegal. The Glentogher based forestry consultant and forestry owner has worked with a subsidiary of Gresham House in the past.
He has called on farmers and forest owners in the county to contact their TDs to object to this deal going ahead. Mr Buchanan described Gresham House as a very powerful company with major investors behind them. In a press release dated January 6 the company launched the project stating “Gresham House Launches Irish Forestry Fund With Coillte And ISIF To Drive Afforestation In Ireland; the “Irish Strategic Forestry Fund” will provide up to €200m capital needed to create new forests, making a significant contribution to Ireland’s Climate Action Plan.
The fund will also acquire existing forest assets and when fully deployed, will represent a portfolio of approximately 12,000 hectares of new and existing forests”. The company manages €3.9 billion of client assets in the UK, Europe and Australia, making it “one of the largest global forestry asset managers by value” and the largest in Britain.
“From 2008/9 upwards to now they bought up a lot of private forestry in the UK and took complete control over the market,” said Mr Buchanan.
“The only thing we can do now is put enough public pressure to have this proposed deal reviewed. The Irish Farmers Association (IFA) are very dismayed that government are pursuing a policy of facilitating the buy-out of rural Ireland by a foreign investment fund all subsidised by taxpayer money,” Mr Buchanan said.
“What is very alarming is the way government seems to be OK and on board with using taxpayers money in grants and premiums to subsidise the buying up of rural Ireland. As a taxpayer I don’t want to see my money going to a UK company. I want to see it going to an Irish family.
“We need to highlight it as it has come out of the blue. I believe they have been planning this deal for a long time. If Coillte control more forest land that has the potential to impact negatively on private timber prices. Also is the money made in this investment fund going to stay in our economy?”
“We had a few emergency IFA meetings this week, and we really need to meet with Coillte and Minister McConalogue. We need to do something before this happens in front of our eyes as it looks like this is a fait accompli.
“I would encourage people to think seriously about what is happening here and contact their TDs and express their outrage. There are a lot of forest owners now in an older age bracket, who have not been able to get licenses and are not fit for the fight. They might roll over when an English company offers them money.
“If this goes ahead it will be to the detriment of Irish rural communities. Who wants to see the lights going out in rural communities? If big tracts of land are sold off to these, families will leave.
“The bottom line is that there is money to be made from forestry, and these investors are planning to make it with Coillte’s help rather than the current landowners.”
Minister McConalogue stated after the meeting with Coillte that “Farmers are at the heart of this ambitious and well-funded Programme. In addition to single farm payments on afforested land, which other landowners will not receive, farmers will be paid 20 years of premium under the new Programme, compared to other landowners who will receive 15 years of payments.”