Landowners will be paid thousands of pounds in bonuses for creating new woodlands that boost wildlife, increase public access and reduce flooding, under a new GBP16m scheme for England announced on Wednesday.
The Forestry Commission plan will for the first time allow payments for natural regeneration, where wind-blown seeds colonise land. This can be the best way to recreate native woodlands and some landowners have complained that past grants only allowed tree planting. Support for planting trees along rivers to improve waterside habitats will also be offered for the first time.
The government announced the biggest shake-up of farming policy for 50 years in November, enabled by Brexit. It said GBP1.6bn of annual subsidies would be redirected from simply rewarding land ownership or rental to measures that help tackle the climate and wildlife crises, but it did not set out the level of such payments.
The new scheme will cover all the costs of saplings and planting and pay bonuses of up to GBP2,800 a hectare for woodland that helps wildlife recover, GBP1,600/ha for riverside trees, GBP2,200/ha for woodland with long-term public access and GBP500/ha for cutting flood risk by slowing water flow. Landowners can claim multiple benefits if their project ticks multiple boxes.
The GBP16m fund will cover the first year of the scheme and the government has pledged GBP500m in future funding for trees and woodlands. It said a significant majority of new trees will be native species rather than conifer plantations. There is not a specific amount of funding for natural regeneration, with the government saying the money would be awarded competitively based on the environmental and social benefits of a project.
“From planting a small one-hectare block, a strip of trees along rivers to reduce flood risk, to large mixed woodlands, this improved grant gives everyone the opportunity to see woodland creation as a financially and environmentally rewarding option,” said Sir William Worsley, the chair of the Forestry Commission. “This will help with our journey to reach net zero by 2050.”
Guy Shrubsole from Rewilding Britain said: “At last the government has seen the wood for the trees and will be funding farmers and landowners to allow the natural regeneration of tree saplings. Whilst tree planting has its place, allowing trees to re-seed is often a much better way to create natural, species-rich scrub and woodland habitats.”
“But the devil will be in the detail,” he added. “If the Forestry Commission restricts public funding for natural regeneration to only a short distance from a seed source, as has been rumoured, that will artificially constrain what nature can do.”
Stuart Roberts, the deputy president of the National Farmers Union (NFU), said new trees were part of the NFU’s net zero plan and welcomed the flexibility of the new scheme, which he said must work alongside productive farming.