Earlier this week I attended the opening day of the Oxford Farming conference and, as ever, I was impressed by the range and quality of both speakers and attendees. The mood was one of optimism. On my return home I was contrasting this with the mood in the forestry sector where the spectre of 2 years in England with no woodland creation grants was casting a shadow over the future for nurseries, contractors and consultants and leaving government policy ambitions around woodland expansion looking very hollow.
Two days on and my optimism has returned. Government has actually taken note of our call for an interim solution to the problem and announced today that they intend to maintain the levels of woodland planting that they fund through Pillar 2 in 2014/15. This is great news and DEFRA should be congratulated for listening, understanding the problem and then taking steps to do something about it.
But the devil as ever, is in the detail.
The DEFRA statement makes reference to funding 2,000ha in 2014/15 – this will be the lowest level since at least 2005 and well below the 5,000ha/year that will be needed if we are to match the aspirational 12% woodland cover target that Government outlined in their forestry policy last January.
The announcement is to be welcomed as is the intention to offer tree planting grants in 2015, ahead of the new environmental land management agreements coming into effect in January 2016. With your help, we have held Government to account and it’s been well worth it, but there is so much more to do.
Much of the talk at the Oxford Farming conference was around food security and “sustainable intensification”. Today’s DEFRA announcement provides the platform to continue to highlight to both government and the farming sector the role of trees and woods in enhancing productive farming, and contributing to that sustainability – be that through shelter for animals and crops, soil protection, flood alleviation, improving water quality, improving air quality (particularly ammonia absorption), or as a renewable energy resource. Trees and woods should be seen as an integral part of that sustainable intensification, not as a competitor for a limited and precious land resource.
It seems that Christmas has either come very early this year or very late… but it is a great start to the year for forests. This announcement hopefully signals an understanding by government of the wider societal benefits of woodland expansion and a determination to provide a platform for that expansion to be delivered.
Listening and understanding is at the heart of another campaign which we have launched today aimed at the Prime Minister, demanding an end to the uncertainty surrounding ancient woodland protection. Please continue to support us, your efforts give a voice to woods and trees that they so badly need.
John Tucker, Director of Woodland Creation