Fine talk needs fine action

In its 2013 response to the Independent Panel on Forestry, Government stated that it believed there was scope for expanding England’s woodland cover significantly. It is a shame that such positive rhetoric seems to have quickly disappeared as the spectre of at least 2 years without new tree planting grants in England looms large. Existing grant schemes will continue, but no new tree planting grants will be awarded in 2014 or 2015.

Image: WTPL

Click to sign our petition calling for interim grants and help England avoid a tree planting crisis!

Recent research by Forestry Commission on landowner attitudes found that “Overall the evidence reports generally negative attitudes towards woodland creation held by landowners in the UK”. It takes patience and persistence to persuade a landowner to make a far-reaching decision to plant trees. Such a decision requires stability and confidence in the future, even with the broad benefits trees and woodlands bring. While the Trust’s message around woodland creation supporting productive farming is definitely being well-received, for example, some of the benefits can be quite complicated – for example, the impacts trees can make on flood alleviation, soil erosion and nitrate run-off – and do need time to be absorbed. Reasons for not planting are many and varied; some believe that the capital value of their land will be lowered or that the land should be farmed. Others think that there is a lack of both short- and long-term financial incentives, and lack of advice and understanding is also key.

The Government’s cavalier attitude towards planting grants is not going to inspire many landowners that government is truly interested in forestry – why should they, the landowner, bother even considering trees as an option?

And what about the wider forestry sector? Forestry contracting is a fickle and hard world to make a half decent living in at the best of times, and countless studies have identified the insubstantial contracting base as a real deterrent to taking UK forestry forward. There are some fabulous contractors and consultants across the country, who make a substantial proportion of their living from woodland creation – what are they supposed to do for the next 2 years? Does Government really think that they are all going to be around in 2016, ready like eager dogs to pick up where they left off? I have had more than one conversation with contractors and consultants who really fear for their future.

And what about the much-lauded “Grown in Britain” campaign? Our nursery sector could be a key contributor towards this, supplying a trusted source of home-grown, disease-free trees. What are they supposed to do for the next 2 years… and how can they plan for 2016? Bare root trees will take 2 years to grow once the seed has been sourced, container grown trees can mostly be ready in 12 months. How can they have any idea what demand for trees will be like in 2016 and beyond? Surely this is just going to push people back to buying continental stock once again with all the disease threats that have materialized through the likes of ash dieback.

What’s at stake? In 2012 and 2013, 2,600 hectares were planted each year in England funded through government grants; at between 1,100 and 1,800 trees per hectare this equates to more than 5,000,000 trees planted over that period. This is what will be lost, at a minimum, over the next two years because of this (unprecedented and unnecessary) gap in funds. The Trust is calling on the new Forestry Minister to provide a solution in the form of interim grants; over 25,500 people had signed our petition in support within 7 days and it already has the backing of many in the sector including the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) which told us “we support this 100%”.

You can’t turn woodland creation on and off. I would have thought that the Government learnt that during the last RDP hiatus?  So much positive talk but so much short-sightedness. Forestry is a long-term business: let’s see some long-term thinking to give it the support that it so richly deserves.

John Tucker, Director of Woodland Creation

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About Kaye Brennan

Senior Campaigner (Policy & Advocacy) for the Woodland Trust and Administrator, 'Woodland Matters' blog
This entry was posted in Campaigning, Climate Change, England, Forests Report, Planting and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Fine talk needs fine action

  1. Pingback: Great news on our grants campaign! | Woodland Matters

  2. Pingback: A gap in grants affects everyone | Woodland Matters

  3. Mike Cleary says:

    Has every one signed the petiton? Show your friends, family and colleages at work this web-site and get them to add their names to ths vital campaign. Two years without a grant for planting trees is far too long.

  4. When I volunteered wit the BTCV in 1984-87 we were told that new deciduous trees need a shelter grove of fast growing ones like firs to ward off strong winds until they are stronger. The shelter group is then harvested carefully this makes for a natural woodland. David Thompson (who went to N. Ireland to work with the National trust, was a good instructor and authority on woodland maintenance.

  5. Derek West says:

    Any Goverment that has Owen Patterson as Minister for the Enviroment,lacks any credibility.

  6. Jim Clark says:

    We can add it to the list of great lies of our time along with, “we’re all in it together, the cheques in the post, of course I love you darling, at the time of the accident i was driving at twentyeight miles an hour2 and “I never discussed phone hacking with Coulson or Brookes”. Of course as the Tories have wiped the records of their promises, they can start all over again.

  7. Matt Derrington says:

    Talk about a false premise. You’re using words like ‘believed’, ‘positive’ and ‘promise’ in association with the Tories. Are you serious? I thought they were well known as the most untrustworthy, deceitful, self-serving, money-obsessed, principle-less bunch, amongst the most untrustworthy ‘profession’- politicians. But then enough people, so it’s claimed, recently elected them to run riot all over Britain again- this time, in a sickly comic twist, with former sworn enemies in tow, to make up numbers, if not genuine mandate.

    I personally will not ever believe anything the Tories say. Especially when it’s about the things furthest from their insane pre-occupations. The only interest people like that have in trees, is as another commodity to flog off before the flight to Bermuda, or wherever the Hell they think it is they’re going. I hope I know pretty much where.

    • Ash says:

      You are all being too narrow in your vision! NONE of the current political parties is actually any different. NONE can see beyond the next election, the next term in office. Why are we in such a mess now? 20 years of a Labour government! What we need is a different vision & a different plan of action.

  8. Nick says:

    Isn’t there a wider issue here that it’s a sorry state of affairs where there even has to be a grant for people to be planting trees?

  9. chris morley says:

    nothing to do with post BUT anyone got any advice about growing GIANT REDWOOD from seed ?? i have tried and tried again cant seem to get em to grow,have no trouble with native trees ,i just want to plant a few here and there and folk will say in 200 years who planted them ?? give me a chuckle in the grave

  10. Rwthless says:

    We could source trees by encouraging children to plant tree seeds. Collecting sessions of disease free stock may be arranged by local authority environmental staff. I frequently collected seedlings out of my garden of oak trees, so it could be done. In many parks in Birmingham, I often see seedlings that have rooted too closely to larger trees and these could be sourced and transplanted in better places. A seedling up to 5 years old can be moved, but within 3 years is better. There are many small tree planting sessions going on but often not in the best places.

    Nurseries do need to survive and flourish, but if push comes to shove, we may have to manage without them. But we cannot manage in the long term without expertise. Government could put up an embargo against imported trees and timber that is not certified disease free. If those certifying do not have any expertise, then suitable qualifications for this work should be imposed to ensure that either they are trained and qualified, and/or less wood is imported at all stages of development.

    • thehutts says:

      Well said by both John Tucker and Rwthless. I work as an environmental adviser in the farming sector. Last year I did have farmers whom Natural England would like to have persuaded to take up Forestry Commission tree planting grants but they were reluctant to do so because of the risk of importing disease to some beautiful ancient woodlands. There was also a large financial implication for them if they took the grant and the trees did fail to take – a financial risk that hard pressed hill farmers can not afford when their primary aim is livestock production. Their grants are also taking a big hit over the next 2 years and on into the future and my personal opinion is that we will see small hill farmers go out of business in the near future.
      I encouraged the particular farmers I was working for to grow their own replacement trees from their seed and some good advice on how best to do this would be very welcome from the likes of the Woodland Trust. The scale of planting won’t be the same but at least the trees on the farm will continue to thrive. Sally

    • Hear, hear. I’ve been growing trees from seed for several decades, planting them out where possible in wild places or giving them to people with large enough gardens. I love hearing about the latest crop of fruit from some of them. Children should definitely be encouraged to plant tree seeds – they’ll enjoy seeing the results grow bigger each year! The problem is always finding space to plant as the available open space is shrinking all the time. This government has ‘relaxed’ planning permission, thereby fuelling more rampant urbanisation.

      On the issue of imported trees, when I heard that ash dieback disease had been imported I assumed that the government would now automatically ban uncertified trees & wood. How naive was that?

  11. peteratwressle says:

    Yes, talk is cheap. As an aside: looking at your photo of trees being planted in serried ranks, I wonder if more attention should be paid to the aesthetics of new planting. I hate to see trees planted in regimented ranks – what could be further from the natural environment? I can understand that if trees are being grown solely as a crop there might be a reason for it, but straight rows do not make for an attractive or pleasing environment and I, for one, would find little pleasure in walking in such a place. When tree planting, let’s have a little respect for how nature would do it.

    • Kaye Brennan says:

      Hi Peter, a good question. There are a number of reasons why large tree planting schemes plant trees in straight lines instead of in a random pattern:

      The first reason is that it is hard to calculate the number of trees needed for a site if you plant in a random pattern. Tree numbers are calculated based on tree planting density (how many trees per hectare) and the area of land that you wish to cover with trees. If you don’t plant in a regimented fashion, it is hard to control the density of trees and thus calculate easily how many trees you will need. This is important for a couple of reasons. Firstly, there is the issue of cost. If you can’t accurately calculate how many trees you will need, you may under or over order the number of trees required. Secondly, if the site you are planting is subject to any grants (e.g. a planting grant from the Forestry Commission), they will usually specify the planting density, and you need to stick to this to be within the terms of the grant agreement. Thirdly, planting densities usually vary depending on the type of habitat you are creating. There is a difference in woods that are densely planted when compared to open woodland with glades, for example. If you plant in a random pattern you can’t as easily control the planting density.

      The second reason for planting in straight lines is that it’s actually very hard to plant in a truly random pattern. Studies have been conducted on this in the past, and it would seem that the human eyes and brain are automatically wired to search for pattern. As such, if you set people loose in a field to plant trees randomly, they will naturally start to create a pattern. It’s therefore not cost-effective to indulge in this, because of reason one.

      Although aesthetically, newly-planted sites do look regimented and man-made for the first few years of their life, it only takes 12 years for the canopy to close over and create a woodland. In this time, some of the trees will be thinned, some will die naturally (it’s expected that you’ll lose up to 25% of a planting through natural causes), some new trees will self-seed, and some trees will simply never develop into mature specimens. The area will soon start to look like natural woodland. If you compare this to a conifer plantation, these are managed to maintain their regimented structure for ease of harvest (which isn’t our aim!).

      • peteratwressle says:

        Landscape gardeners manage to achieve a ‘natural effect’. When planting bulbs, for example, the secret is to throw them up in the air and plant them where they fall. Not so easy with trees, of course, but if the goal is to replicate natural woodland, it can be done – the landscape architects of old, like Capability Brown, managed to achieve a semblance of naturalism. I understand what you’re saying about the financial aspect but if a certain number of trees were allocated per so many square metres, the effect could be achieved. I walk a lot in woodland, both ancient and more recent (man-made) and the majority is random-planted. Perhaps it’s the poet in me but regimented trees imply that this is ‘man’ imposing his control on the landscape and, quite frankly, it repels rather than attracts me. Well, it’s a lovely sunny day, so I’m off for a stroll in Millington Wood up on the Yorkshire Wolds.

  12. JENNIFER STRAY says:

    I have to say sadly ‘so what’s new’?

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