LAND JOURNAL

RICS contributes to the England Tree Strategy

Author: Fiona Mannix

22 September 2020

Government advises that tree planting remains at the heart of its ambitious environmental programme and has committed to increase tree planting across the UK to 30,000ha per year by 2025. Forestry is a devolved matter therefore it also needs to work closely with the governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to agree how the combined efforts can meet UK-wide tree-planting targets and net-zero emissions by 2050. Governments across the board also need to work closely with communities and landowners and managers alike to ensure both targets are met.

Under all 10 forms of central government support in England recent figures released have shown that there was:

  • 1,273ha of new planting in 2018-19
  • 1,956ha of new planting in 2019-20

An increase of 54% year on year but well behind the targets and government’s manifesto commitment.

The area of new planting of woodland in England, including both government and non-government support, has increased by 64%:

  • 1,420ha in 2018-19
  • 2,330ha in 2019-20

which might look impressive when we compare one year to the next, but the number of hectares being planted in England is woefully inadequate.

The £640m Nature for Climate Fund is targeted at planting more than 40m trees and restoring 35,000ha of peatland in England.

Government advises that the England Tree Strategy will set out how it plans to accelerate woodland creation, but also, importantly, how to manage and protect the trees already in existence. The strategy is also intended to ensure that the right tree is planted in the right place, and for the right reason.

RICS’ response to the England Tree Strategy consultation

RICS would like to see the creation of economic systems that provide long-term income streams from development, forestry and ecosystem services, and that produce capital values in woodland equal to or greater than agricultural values.

To encourage private investment in trees and woodland creation, RICS suggests the creation of an industry framework and accompanying standards that outline how to assess the value of both natural and social capital and the provision of ecosystem services that flow from the establishment of new woodland creation and that has recognition and buy-in from the sector. This would have the added benefit of facilitating cross-comparison in the sector.

We would also like to see the development of mechanisms that support the development of real markets for the benefits provided by woodland creation; this includes both timber and non-timber products and the creation of a planning landscape where development mixed with both new woodland planting and existing plantation forestry is encouraged. Developments such as tourist accommodation, woodland burials, outdoor leisure have all proved successful. Further developments of woodland business parks and woodland homes would have a significant impact on woodland planting. We also encourage the promotion of the long-term prospects of investment in the sector to appeal to investors who need long-term sustainable returns.

“RICS would like to see the creation of economic systems that provide long-term income streams from development, forestry and ecosystem services”
Non-financial barriers to woodland creation

RICS would like to see national planning policy changed from a protectionist stance on woodlands to one enabling development in woodlands to broaden uses and create new income streams. One option to deal with some of the regulatory barriers to woodland creation would be to simplify the environmental impact assessment (EIA) process where fertilised and/or drained agricultural land and reclaimed land are proposed to be planted with woodland.

To support natural processes, RICS suggests removing the generic cross-compliance requirement to keep land in good agricultural condition in the belief that it could release a portion of a landholding to support the natural establishment of trees and woodland. We recommend seeking out, and learning from, areas of natural regeneration. Where there is no natural regeneration, we believe there is potential for a plan or mechanism to assist this to occur. We also recommend that deer management is carried out across the country and suggest the consideration and study of the risks, benefits and impact on the rural economy of large-scale rewilding schemes, such as the Knepp Castle Estate, Sussex.

Other initiatives to increase woodland creation and tree cover include promoting opportunities for carbon capture where an income stream could be created with a viable market for carbon capture to help increase woodland creation.

We highlighted feedback from our members that the current grant process is complex and slow, and the opportunities for its improvement that would assist in facilitating more woodland creation. In addition, there’s a need for fiscal incentives that help not just to create new woodlands, but also to incentivise, encourage and assist more active management of existing woodlands.

“There’s a need for fiscal incentives that help not just to create new woodlands, but also to incentivise, encourage and assist more active management of existing woodlands”

Long-term income streams from development, forestry and ecosystem services are needed and the promotion of forestry development policies where lodges, leisure facilities, commercial and residential uses are provided in a new woodland environment should be encouraged. Agroforestry and its myriad of benefits should be more strongly promoted and there should be consideration of how it will be integrated into the ELM (Environmental Land Management) scheme. We highlighted the challenges that ash dieback will pose which will require assistance to substantially diversify woodland tree species and within-species genetic diversity.

We suggest National Parks and Areas of Outstanding National Beauty could help increase woodland cover using the following methods.

  • Wider promotion of the benefits of increasing woodland cover in these areas. There is much that these bodies could do and there is the obvious potential for them to play a more active role in the creation of additional woodland cover. Increased woodland and woodland cover can add to their existing stock of natural capital (including genetic diversity between cultivated and wild species and within all those species) and the resulting flows of ecosystem services should be recognised and accounted for by these bodies and promoted in terms of the societal benefits they offer.
  • Mapping should be used for these areas to help identify opportunities for woodland creation in the right locations to provide maximum benefits.

A further action to overcome financial barriers to woodland management includes the need to ensure a diverse range of markets and opportunities for financial incomes, such as to demonstrate the benefits that diverse woodland habitats have to the shooting community.

Suggested actions to bring woodland Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) into management include.

  • Targeted grant funding that facilitates managing the different specifics of each site.
  • Expert and experienced advisers in Natural England and the Forestry Commission to advise landowners and land managers responsible for these sites in a timely manner and to help with any regulatory burden.
  • Additional support for management systems that may pose a challenge, for example, coppicing.
  • Availability of funding that places an attractive value on the myriad of benefits that these woodlands can and do provide.

We suggest that government can overcome the barriers to securing and maintaining street trees in some of the following ways.

  • The use of mandatory requirements as outlined in the Planning for the future White Paper and the requirement to have tree-lined streets.
  • Adopt common frameworks that recognise the ecosystem services provided by street trees. There are a multitude in existence in the sector but a standardised framework would facilitate comparison and ensure maximum benefits. The framework could also be used to make the case for both initial and ongoing maintenance funding.
  • Active communication and engagement with the Highways Agency and Local Highways Authorities is essential.
  • And last but not least, to deal with the funding challenge for the planting and ongoing maintenance of trees in urban areas we suggest that benefits provided by trees must be promoted for all to understand the key role they play in the health and wellbeing of people and the planet so that funding is prioritised.

fmannix@rics.org

Related competencies include: Environmental management, Land use and diversification, Sustainability

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