Government launches new tree-planting incentives
The Department for Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has launched a new promotional drive to encourage farmers and landowners to plant more trees.
The government has launched a new promotional drive to encourage farmers to plant more trees. It is the latest in a flurry of initiatives to replace the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments for farmers with post-Brexit payments that are intended to encourage farmers and landowners to manage their land in a way that is good for the environment.
The latest woodland creation offer is part of the England Trees Action Plan that was launched last year, and outlines the long-term vision the government has for tree cover by 2050. Under the plan, the government aims to treble tree planting by the end of this parliament and has pledged £500m from the Nature for Climate Fund to this end. This aims to create tree cover at a rate of at least 7,000 hectares per year in England. This would take tree cover from a low of 5.1% in 1924 to an intended 17% by 2050.
The government says that the new woodland grants offer a profitable way for farmers and landowners to boost their business as well as deliver environmental benefits, alongside food production. It claims that farmers and landowners could receive grants worth up to £10,000 per hectare.
Forestry Commission Chief Executive, Richard Stanford, said: “Trees and woodland play a vital role in protecting the planet and help mitigate the increasing threat of climate change and biodiversity loss.
“As the Government’s forestry experts, we continue to support farmers and landowners in finding ways to grow trees in a way which meets their individual needs and ambitions.”
Mark Tufnell, President of the Country Land and Business Association said: “Planting up areas of marginal land can have many benefits for livestock, water, soil and wildlife management – as well as providing long-term income from timber, carbon credits, and woodfuel.”
The switch-over from the old CAP payment scheme to the new Environmental Land Management scheme has been fraught with difficulties for farmers. The recently announced Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI), which will replace the basic payment for farmers under the old CAP, was criticised by farming and environmental groups alike. The Local Nature Recovery and Landscape Recovery schemes were designed to be ‘bigger and better’ versions of the current agri-environment schemes, but have received only a cautious welcome as many farmers feel that their actual policy implementations are still light on detail.
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The new woodland creation funding is to be phased in by 2024 and many farmers are unclear how taking up tree planting grants now might affect current and future payments under the ELM schemes.
Few doubt that planting more trees is anything other than a good thing. Trees can increase biodiversity, sequester carbon and so mitigate climate change, provide shelter for livestock, give a productive use to otherwise unproductive agricultural land, improve the health of rivers when planted along their banks, and help protect against downstream flooding risk by their roots stabilising the soil and slowing down the rate at which water enters the river at times of heavy rain.
National Farmers’ Union (NFU) Deputy President Stuart Roberts said: “Planting trees forms a key part of the NFU’s net zero plan, and farmers recognise their role in helping to deliver it. But it is important we are smart in our approach as we cannot end up in a situation where we are losing productive and versatile farmland and reducing sustainable domestic food production, only to increase our reliance on food imports from countries with lower environmental credentials.
“As we say in the NFU’s Tree Strategy, the key thing is to ensure that the right tree is planted in the right place, whether it’s the creation of woodland or just one tree, and that we maintain our ability to continue producing sustainable, climate-friendly food.”
Main image credit: Alamy
Andrew Griffiths is an environment and angling writer and podcaster. He writes for publications in the UK and USA, including BBC Countryfile Magazine, BBC Wildlife Magazine, and Gray’s Sporting Journal in the States.