LAND JOURNAL

What grants can I get to plant trees in England?

Are you aware of the full range of grants and incentives available for planting trees in England? Land Journal sets out the latest

Author:

  • David Lewis MRICS

21 June 2024

Dense forest from above

Forestry has long been seen as a poor relation to agriculture, and most woodlands have historically tended to be planted on sites that are marginal for farming such as those with poor soils or that are steep or have poorly drained land.

More recently many people, including policymakers, have increasingly recognised the different benefits that woodlands can provide, though, not only to landowners but also local communities and wider society. This has led to an increased interest in creating new woodlands.

In turn, the UK government has signalled its wish to see significantly more land planted with trees, setting a target of 30,000ha of new woodland each year until 2050. This is a significant increase on current levels of tree planting. Over the past 10 years, not even 50% of this target for new planting has been reached. According to Forest Research statistics for 2023, planting rates range from fewer than 6,000ha to just under 14,000ha.

To try to achieve these ambitious targets, the government is offering a range of grants to encourage landowners to plant trees.

These grants are targeted according to location and type of woodland, reflecting the priorities of the various UK nations and regions. The grants include capital payments designed to offset most if not all the planting costs as well as annual payments to cover maintenance.

Forestry Commission grants for woodland creation in England

Each UK nation has its own grants and eligibility criteria. While they have all been keen to encourage the creation of new woodlands, the types of grant and rates payable vary with local conditions and priorities.

The Forestry Commission grants in England currently available are set out below. These are the Woodland Creation Planning Grant (WCPG) and the England Woodland Creation Offer (EWCO), which includes annual maintenance payments.

The former provides funding for a woodland creation design plan that complies with the UK Forestry Standard (UKFS). There are two stages to this grant with each stage having its own grant payment. Stage one is a preliminary assessment, essentially a desk-based exercise to identify constraints such as environmental land designations that may affect the proposed scheme.

This helps determine whether planting should go ahead, and if so which areas of the proposed site are appropriate. It also helps inform the planting design, including the choice of species. This grant amounts to £1,500.

If your proposal passes stage one, you can proceed to stage two, which centres on the production of a woodland creation design plan and pays £150 per hectare minus the initial £1,500. Additional funding for specialist surveys may also be available, capped at £30,500 per project.

This grant is designed to encourage better thought-out and better-quality schemes. Once you have a plan, this can be used for a EWCO application or other regionally based woodland creation grants.

The Forestry Commission has set these rates for both stages of this grant at a level that it believes will defray most, if not all, the professional costs. To be eligible for this grant, the minimum planting area must be 5ha or more.

The EWCO is designed to cover up to 100% of the capital costs of tree planting and is capped at £10,200 per hectare. A range of factors can influence the costs. In particular, these are as follows:

  • choice of species, as broad-leaved trees can be at least twice the cost of conifers
  • stocking density; that is to say, the more trees per hectare the greater is the cost per hectare
  • presence of pests and the need to protect newly planted trees from them; for instance, using individual shelters or fencing to protect against rabbit or squirrel damage
  • difficult site conditions
  • areas of the country where labour costs tend to be higher.

This may mean that £10,200 per hectare may not cover the costs. However, additional contributions may be available to supplement this EWCO payment if the new planting scheme is deemed to offer public benefits, such as biodiversity, permissive access for recreation, flood mitigation and improved water quality.

These additional contributions are stackable and a new woodland project may be eligible for several, such as those for flood risk management, biodiversity and recreational access. This could amount to a significant sum.

Related article

Opinion: How can we hit our woodland planting targets?

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Revised DEFRA plan increases grant rates

The grants for new woodlands increased again. In January this year the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) published an update to its Agricultural Transition Plan. As a result, the rates for many of the options available through the Countryside Stewardship Scheme and the Sustainable Farming Incentive have increased. Furthermore, several new options have been added.

The grant rates for some additional contributions have risen. Examples of increases to the additional contribution payments include the annual payments for flood risk management, which have doubled from £500 to £1,000 per hectare, and recreational access has increased from £2,200 to £3,700. As a result, the current maximum rate per hectare available from all existing additional contributions has risen from £8,000 to £11,600 – a 45% increase.

In addition, a new payment of £1,100 per hectare has been introduced, to encourage EWCO applications on low-sensitivity land. The Forestry Commission has developed a map showing areas of land it considers to be low sensitivity, that is, where there are no obvious constraints to woodland planting.

The annual maintenance payment has also been increased from £350 to £400 per hectare. These maintenance payments last for 15 years and are designed to defray the costs of looking after the new woodland. Operations such as beating up – that is, replacing failed trees – weed control and checking and maintaining fences and shelters are all necessary to ensure successful establishment, but they all cost money.

Other opportunities to generate non-timber income

There are also opportunities to benefit from other sources of non-timber income over and above the aforementioned grants. You can register and validate your woodland creation project with a carbon offsetting scheme, likely to be the Woodland Carbon Code (WCC), and subsequently sell the carbon units that are expected to be sequestered.

The number of units arising from the woodland creation scheme will vary according to the type of woodland and the productivity of the site it is planted on. Likewise, the price that you can achieve from selling those units will also vary – the type of woodland and its location affects the quality of ecosystem services that it can provide, and the subsequent marketing and timing of the sale can also affect the price.

A new native woodland, planted on a lowland site, for example, could be expected to sequester 300 to 500 tonnes of carbon dioxide per hectare over 100 years. The market for the sale of woodland carbon units is still evolving. Based on anecdotal evidence, it appears that a wide range of prices are currently being achieved, between £20 and £60 per tonne for units registered with the WCC. Assuming that this evidence is reliable, this would equate to between £6,000 and £30,000 per hectare.

The sale of carbon credits can therefore provide a significant additional income and so increases the number of sites for which the returns from planting land with trees compares favourably with farming.

Indeed, several well-known estates have planted up parts of their more marginal agricultural land. Not only will this have helped them diversify their sources of income, but also to gain a guaranteed income rather than be subject to the vagaries of the agricultural commodity prices. It could also help their environmental, social and governance credentials.

Nevertheless, despite such potential benefits, relatively few areas of new woodland planting have to date been registered under the WCC. It is reported that as of December, there are a total of 2,037 projects registered under the WCC in the UK, covering 79,179ha. This is not even 25% of the government's annual target, and the WCC has been in existence for more than ten years.

There may also be other nature-based opportunities, for example biodiversity offsetting. It is possible to benefit from both the sale of carbon and any biodiversity offset units though this might impact your eligibility for the aforementioned grants.

'The sale of carbon credits can provide additional income and increase the number of sites for which the returns from planting land with trees compares favourably with farming'

Selling credits not always best option

However, note that selling off your carbon and biodiversity units might not be the best course of action. It may be beneficial to retain some or all of them, for example if you have your own development projects in the pipeline or if you wish to reduce your own carbon footprint.

It is also worth noting that these financial opportunities tend only to be an option for the larger schemes, of at least 10ha. The costs of registration and validation for the WCC are likely to be considerable. Likewise, most developers are only interested in larger biodiversity offsets. Furthermore, woodland projects need to be at least 1ha to be eligible for EWCO funding and 5ha for the WCPG.

Furthermore, while owners of larger estates might be able to identify and could afford to lose 10ha or more to woodland, it would be a greater challenge for smaller farming businesses.

RICS members who are advising clients on valuation of such land should refer to RICS' Valuation of woodlands and forests professional standard.

Other sources of funding

There are other sources of grant funding, such as the support provided by the Woodland Trust. There are also a number of so-called woodland creation delivery partners such as the Community Forests and the National Forest Company, as well as some councils that offer regional or localised grant support.

These sources of support are variable – they may cover all the costs of planting, but are unlikely to cover all the maintenance or forgone income. Yet most farms have small areas of land that would benefit from tree planting; for instance, planting several rows of trees along hedges and other boundaries to provide a wind-break, or to plant up an awkward field corner.

Organisations such as the Woodland Trust and the Soil Association have been advocating such tree planting. But without additional financial support, these smaller schemes are less likely to materialise. Perhaps DEFRA or the Forestry Commission should consider introducing a small woodland creation grant, as Natural Resources Wales has done.

The minimum area for this Welsh grant is only 0.25ha and the grant rates have been set at a level to fund the costs of buying and planting the trees and any necessary fencing and gates required. I am told that the application process also seems relatively quick and simple and the grant was oversubscribed last year. If such an initiative were introduced in England it could supplement the recently announced agro-forestry grant, announced by DEFRA at the start of the year.

David Lewis MRICS is an independent land management and forestry consultant specialising in the management of farm and estate woodlands and new woodland creation projects. He also owns Lewis Forestry

Contact David: Email | LinkedIn

 

If you have any issues or suggestions that you think are of national significance, contact Fiona Mannix or David Lewis, who is a member of The Forestry Commission's Delivery Advisory Group.

Related competencies include: Forestry and woodland management, Land use and diversification, Management of the natural environment and landscape, Sustainability

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