Tree Planting and Woodlands – an EFRA Select Committee

WftT has made a submission to the EFRA (Dept of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) Select Committee set up to look at future government policy on trees and woodlands

Like many other organisations interested in having their voice heard, WftT have made a submission, which we print in full here. We also show, for comparison, the submission made by the Small Woods Association. As you will see, we are thinking along some of the same lines – they recognize the likely importance of small, local woodland initiatives that may in the long run be more sustainable, when we consider that the skills base, marketing outlets and supply-demand balance for woodland produce is very underdeveloped. Will this happen on its own as more woodlands are planted or managed? Or does Government need to provide more incentives and supportive infrastructure for rural crafts and produce? It takes one back to the laudable aims of Agenda 21 at the Rio Earth Summit of 1992 – if anyone remembers that far back…

Woods for the EFRA Trees and Woods Select Cttee submission November 2020

WftT is a non-profit, countrywide initiative that supports individuals, groups and communities to plant manage trees in small woodlands by identifying land and landowners willing to set aside land for that purpose.  WftT aims to protect that relationship with 25-year covenants ensuring continuity of use, permissive access and the promotion of community education and engagement.

Our Submission

We would like to address the following aspects of the call for submissions to the EFRA Select Committee:

Are the right structures in place to ensure that the UK wide target for increasing forestry coverage is delivered?

In relation to increasing forestry coverage in England, what should the Government be trying to achieve? For example, how should the following policy objectives be prioritised?

    –  Mitigating or adapting to climate change;

    –  Promoting biodiversity and nature recovery;

    –  Increasing biosecurity and plant health;

    –  Improving human well-being and health;

    –  Protecting natural and cultural heritage;

Are the right policies and funding in place to appropriately protect and manage existing woodlands in England? How will prospective changes to policy and legislation effect this?

A) Incentives for establishing new woodlands

  1. We note that the Woodland Creation Grant covers basic capital costs for establishing new woodlands of more than 8 acres (3.24ha): trees, shelters, fencing.

What gets in the way of landowners taking up the grant?

  • The Rural Payments Agency registration process takes far too long: the difference, potentially, between being able to establish trees in one year or the next (nb the tree planting season is limited generally to Nov-Mar).
  • The WCG application process, which cannot begin until RPA registration is acknowledged, takes a further 6 months.
  • The capital grant is only paid AFTER planting is complete, perhaps 2 years after the capital is spent.
  • Plots of land less than 8 acres are ineligible.
  • The full maintenance grant of £200 per hectare for ten years is only paid to those whose ‘farming’ income is more than 50% of their total income.
  • The WCG scoring system is loaded towards providing habitats for narrow ranges of bird and mammal species and for effects on natural water supplies.  It contains no scoring for permissive access, education or broader habitat establishment and enhancement.
  • We note that, despite the local authority provision for Local Agenda 21 initiatives, opportunities, outlets and subsidies for local woodland produce – coppice products, charcoal, firewood etc., are non-existent.
  • We note that the bulk of the UK’s native woodlands are unproductive; that the UK imports in the region of 60,000 tonnes of charcoal annually.
  • We note that the incentives to plant non-native conifer woods on unsustainable rotation regimes are in contrast to poor incentives for establishing medium rotation native woodland coppice.
  • We question whether the UK’s tree nurseries, without firm guarantees from Government, would be able to supply the requisite trees for the existing plan to create 30,000ha of new trees per year.
  • We are unaware of current criteria to identify suitable land on which to plant trees to bring the UK up to the European average of woodland cover.

B) Habitat generation in new woodlands

  1. We note the current funding orthodoxy that new woodlands consist solely and entirely of planted trees: weeded, generally with chemical herbicides, for ten years after planting. 

Biodiverse, ecologically rich habitats in which trees are the dominant land cover are enhanced by well-established practices:

  • Wide, edge-managed rides
  • Organic or manual weed control
  • Medium-term coppice rotations of native species such as hazel, beech, sweet chestnut and alder
  • The establishment of damp, wet or wetland areas or ponds

The WCG scoring system provides no explicit incentive for such habitat creation measures. 

C) Improving human well-being and health

1. There is no national scheme or incentive to enable communities to establish new woodlands.  We note a palpable sense that land and the countryside belong in the hands of a small number of proprietors and that communities are excluded from a sense of stake holding in the future of the countryside.

2. We note the evident social, cultural, health and mental wellbeing benefits of providing access for people of all backgrounds and abilities to enjoy trees and woodlands; and their active participation in establishing and managing new woodland.  Planting trees, especially during the challenging time of lockdown and isolation, is an activity that can give communities a sense of purpose and long-lasting achievement.

D) Statutory protection for ancient woodland and PAWS and small farmland woods

  1. Woodlands classed as ‘ASNW’ are those limited to 5ha or larger.  Evidence from research provided by the Bernician Studies Group ‘Cocwudu project’ in Northumberland has shown that smaller woods of demonstrable age can be at least as rich in biodiversity and that they may, by providing potential habitat links with larger woods and possible gene banks for new woodlands, play a disproportionately significant role in maintaining and enhancing rural habitats and diversity.  At present they have no statutory protection under planning laws.

E) What we would like to see

  • More incentives for the take up of the WCG, or its future equivalent under the proposed ELM: through relaxing acreage restrictions; shorter turnaround times and quicker payments.
  • A more balanced scoring system in the WCG/ELM for broader ecological and social benefits.
  • More statutory protection for small ancient woodlands.
  • Incentives for schools and local community organisations to grow trees from seed as a community pool of trees for planting.
  • More encouragement for landowners to set aside land for tree planting in partnership with local communities.
  • Much better support for local produce from native woodlands managed equally for ecology and productivity, to help reduce unnecessary imports.
  • Provision for the benefits of trees and woodlands to be a statutory element in the National Curriculum, with access for all schools to local woods.
  • More encouragement for local authorities (as both government agencies and as landowners) to become involved in and supportive of community tree planting and woodland management.
  • Consideration of a national environmental volunteer force.
  • Consideration of the establishment of a national community land bank.

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