New woodland creation is running at a historic low level. The RFS believes this is not due to lack of potential schemes, but to the way in which policy is being implemented through the grant scheme and the cost of securing approval.
Award Winning woodland creation.
Picture: Les Starling
Figures released by the Forestry Commission in June 2016 showed a decline from 2.4k ha in 2014/15 to 0.7k ha in 2015/16, a reduction of 70% - made all the more alarming by the fact that new woodland planting in 2015 was already 14% lower than the average of the previous four years.
Of equal concern is the fact that there has been next to no new conifer planting in England over the last six years. Almost all woodland creation in England is broadleaves and yet conifers underpin the economic health of the forestry sector, accounting for 95% of UK wood production.
The government target for planting announced in 2013 is 5,000 ha a year, recently revised to 11 million trees planted in the life of this Parliament. The Government recognises that woods generate economic, environmental and social benefits and that there is a strong public interest case for more woodland cover. This is also acknowledged in recent government reports on flood mitigation and by the report of the Natural Capital Committee. The current rate of planting is falling woefully short of this target.
The new Countryside Stewardship scheme woodland creation grant has a complex application process with narrow application windows. Applications are scored against policy criteria so there is no assurance that applications will be successful. Cost, complexity and uncertainty have caused many woodland owners to put woodland creation plans on hold.
New woodland creation has fallen.
Forest nurseries have been hit hard as stock grown in anticipation of demand has not been required and has had to destroy tens of thousands of saplings, as evidenced by the experience of Prees Heath nurseries.
The RFS and Woodland Creation
Productive forests can deliver for wildlife and flood mitigation as well as support the rural economy. We believe appropriate grant funding should be available for woodland creation based on economic and environmental value, embracing both native and non-native tree species. We have:
- Met with David Gwillam of Prees Heath Nurseries, Stuart Goodall, Confor CEO and the former Environment Minister, Owen Paterson MP, to highlight the barriers to woodland creation.
- On Brexit, we have sought assurance from the new minister responsible for forestry, Dr Therese Coffey, that legacy contracts will be honoured and that new contracts for woodland creation and management will be fully funded until such time as a new scheme is in place. We have also called on Defra to use the prospect of dismantling CAP to develop an integrated land use policy for England in which forestry’s material contribution to the economy, environment and society is properly valued. More here.
- We have joined calls for the Government to consider introducing support for agroforestry in England - it is already integrated into rural development plans in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and at a wider European level. More here.
- Our Excellence in Forestry Awards recognise good practice in new planting for resilience, for silviculture and for small, community and farm woodlands. More here.