Can’t see the wood for the trees? What the England Tree Strategy means for you

27 August 2020

The pace of change of environmental schemes for farmers and landowners is, frankly, dizzying at the moment, which is not necessarily a bad thing but it pays to keep your eye on the ball.

So, it makes sense to be aware that Defra has very recently launched a consultation asking for the views of landowners and farmers on the creation and management of woodland in England. This runs to 11 September 2020 and it’s something you may want to think about getting involved with.

If you do want to make your views known then follow the link to Defra’s call for your input here.

You might be thinking, well, why would I? I’m busy, it’s harvest time and I’ve got a million and one other things to be doing. The answer is because the Government has been very clear that it sees trees as absolutely central to the Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS), which is replacing the Common Agricultural Policy, and so it may be a savvy investment of your time.

One of the Government’s key environmental pledges was to ensure that there will be an increase in tree planting. The plan is for there to be 30,000 hectares of tree establishment each year until at least 2025. The intention is to meet the Government’s commitment to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050 which is no mean feat.

So what is the England Tree Strategy?

In June 2020, Forestry Minister Lord Goldsmith introduced the England Tree Strategy consultation paper which makes for very interesting reading, especially if you are in any way involved in agriculture. Defra explains that it would like to hear from farmers and landowners of all types of land, especially those who have not considered woodland creation and management in the past. The consultation paper sets out all of the many advantages Defra perceives there will be to this massive planting scheme, and it is certainly an impressive list which I won’t attempt to go through completely here.

First, is that the Government expressly states that it wants tree establishment and woodland creation to be economically attractive to farmers, land managers and landowners. The paper explains that the establishment of trees will be an important pillar of ELMS and that there will be economic certainty for those taking up this offer given the time investment needed in planting on this scale.

Of course, this is entirely in line with the Government’s new strategy of offering public money for public goods. It ties in with the Woodland Carbon Guarantee scheme you’ll probably already have heard of. This is a scheme which offers farmers the option to ‘sell’ the carbon dioxide captured by growing trees. The payment will be by way of Woodland Carbon Units and these will be paid by the Government every five or ten years for a guaranteed price.

Secondly, and another important advantage, is the impact on regulating water flow and reducing flood risk, which is likely to be critical over the coming years. Lord Goldsmith explains in his introduction to the consultation that he is personally especially excited about the prospect of wildlife corridors being planted and particularly along water courses. The intention is to help create areas of woodland which will stabilise riverbanks, reduce pollutants which would otherwise drain into watercourses and build new habitats along the waterway. In areas where there are, naturally, large numbers of watercourses, for example in Norfolk and the Fens, this opens up a huge opportunity for farmers.

Finally, another key advantage is that the Government recognises that in order to fulfill this challenge it will need to help England’s nursery sector, which will need the certainty of demand to invest in the increased capacity to grow the wider variety of species needed to diversify and increase the woodlands. Not only will it be important for there to be sufficient nurseries growing the number of trees needed but it will be critical for those trees to come from bio-secure, known producers.

This will only be the beginning of the focus on tree establishment and management for farmers and landowners and how these can be utilised for your economic benefit. Given this, it may be worth getting involved and shaping how this could work best for you.

If you have any questions about the England Tree Strategy then get in touch with Esther Round of our Agriculture and Estates team.

The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at August 2020.