A FOREST owner has said he is "back to day one" after government ministers rejected calls to pay compensation to plantations ravaged by ash dieback. 

Derek McCabe was among those to hit out when it was confirmed afforestation and planting costs would not be covered, despite the deadly disease hitting around 6,000 forest owners in the pocket since it first arrived in Ireland.

Late last month, minister of agriculture, food and the marine, Charlie McConalogue, refused the Irish Forest Owners (IFO) plea for financial support, a move they said "pulled the rug" from the under the country's forestry industry. 

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Derek, a forest owner and chair of the North East Forestry Group, said that “replacing trees with saplings is not restoration”.

“I’m now back to day one," the Cavan forest owner said. "My trees have been growing for more than 20 years and it’ll be another 20 years before my forest is restored to where it was before the disease struck.

“Until then, I cannot make an income from that land, but I will still have to invest time and money on vegetation control, pruning the new trees and general upkeep.”

First appearing on Irish soil in 2012, the fungal pathogen Hymenoscyphus fraxineus has had such a devastating impact that a government committee was told last year: “Ash is gone. Ash is dead.” 

While ash trees remain by far the most abundant species in Ireland – with the common ash, Fraxinus excelsior, native to the island – it’s estimated dieback could claim 90 per cent of them. In the last year or so, this threat is now having a visible effect on its countryside.

The IFO has warned that Minister McConalogue needs to find a method to properly compensate forest owners “whose now worthless plantations have been destroyed” by ash dieback.

Nicholas Sweetman, chairperson of IFO, said: “The minister has been consistent in not recognising that the forestry industry is in crisis.

“The appalling treatment of farmers who are affected by ash dieback has been one of the most critical causes of the current lack of interest in planting among farmers.

Forestry Journal: Nicholas Sweetman, chairperson of IFONicholas Sweetman, chairperson of IFO (Image: Supplied)

“If this country is to meet its climate change commitments, the Minister should be searching for ways to restore confidence in the sector rather than pulling the rug from under farmers who have seen their investment in forestry wiped out through no fault of their own.”