The use of existing forestry grants to allow farmers to plant native woodlands along rivers and streams would dramatically reduce farm water pollution, Ireland’s leading environment coalition has said.
The Environmental Pillar – a coalition of 26 national environmental organisations – wants to see excess funds from under-spent non-native forestry funding diverted to a native woodland farm pollution planting plan as part of the existing Native woodland scheme.
The Pillar’s proposal comes in response to the Government’s latest review of the Nitrates Action Programme which recommends that farmers on intensively stocked farms fence off their cattle from watercourses from January 2021. 
It is the Pillar’s view that if farms are to be fenced off; funding should then also be made available to allow for the planting of linear native woodlands along waterways, where appropriate, to act as a natural buffering protection for our rivers and streams.
We are also alarmed that the proposed recommendation to ensure farmers fence off the rivers and streams will not come into play until 2021. We believe that a more appropriate response is required as soon as possible.
Just this week, the EPA released its Drinking Water Report 2016 which found that contamination from pesticides is one of the leading causes of poor water quality in our public water supplies. 
Our native trees have a fantastic ability to absorb this pollution and convert it to carbon and do not require fertilisers or pesticides, unlike current commercial non-native tree plantations.
This approach would have the immediate benefit of improving water quality, creating new habitat, and storing carbon. 
The planting of linear native woodlands along waterways, where appropriate, would also help ensure that we comply with our obligations under various EU Directives and avoid the potential burden of substantial penalties.
Other known benefits of this system would be the free natural fertilising of the farm land via the annual leaf fall from the native trees, returning minerals and nutrients back to the soil.
The deep tree roots would also soak up rain water during heavy rains, mitigating flooding, while the binding root action on the river and stream banks would prevent soil erosion.
Environmental Pillar forestry spokesperson, Andrew St. Ledger said:
“Planting figures are historically low, averaging just 6,000 hectares per year, despite Coford’s expert finding that we need to plant a minimum of 10,000 hectares per year.
“If we are to meet our International carbon commitments under the Paris agreement, it is essential that we urgently increase our very low tree cover, the second lowest in the EU after Malta.
“So, it is a no-brainer to use our existing and under spent commercial forestry funding to support farmers in creating linear native woodlands to act as a natural buffering protection for our rivers and streams.”
“We have an opportunity to increase our tree planting rates, encourage the growth of highly beneficial native trees species, and combat the contamination of our waterways from pesticides. This is a genuine win-win situation for farmers, policy makers and our Environment”
“The funding to implement this simple agroforestry measure is available, the science that supports the efficacy of the measure is known, what is required now, is political will combined with vision to grasp the nettle and do it”.
 Irish Examiner, Farmers will have to fence off cattle from streams and rivers by 2021: https://goo.gl/WhPuqa
 The first Nitrates Action Programme was put into operation in 2006 to give effect to the EU Nitrates Directive and was revised following reviews in 2010 and 2013. It applies to almost 139,600 farm holdings and is is the key agricultural measure for preventing and reducing water pollution from nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus.
Drinking Water Report for Public Water Supplies 2016: https://goo.gl/hW8hZW
 Environmental Pillar Submission to the Public Consultation on the SEA for the Draft Forestry Programme 2014-2020: https://goo.gl/zYau1B
 A Strategy for Native Woodlands in Ireland 2016-2020: https://goo.gl/oxnMdN