Planting and establishing trees takes quite a bit of planning, particularly if you are looking for grant aid to support the planting – and most planting schemes above 1 hectare (ha) in size are supported in this way to some degree or another. Suitable land needs to be secured for planting, a plan developed for the site checking that your proposals are appropriate and an application submitted to the Forestry Commission – sometimes in consultation with others – before sourcing suitable trees and obtaining materials and labour. All of these stages can take time and have potential challenges and pitfalls.
Here’s a good example of how the current situation with tree planting grants is affecting how we support people who want to plant trees, and the landowners themselves:
In 2012 Rugby Borough Council applied, with help from the Woodland Trust, for a woodland creation grant to plant a new, publically accessible, 47ha ‘Diamond Wood’ as part of our hugely successful Jubilee Woods project, which saw 6 million trees planted across the country. So pleased was the council with what they had been able to create, they asked for the Trust’s help once again to ‘green’ Rugby’s city centre. They really understood the wider value and benefits trees could bring to the urban realm.
Having identified a handful of urban sites ideal to plant trees for the benefit of residents and workers, RBC submitted their application for a woodland creation grant far earlier than the August 31st deadline. However, during the process the application came up against a technicality: the newly identified sites had not completed registration with the Rural Land Registry. Despite the fact registration was already in progress, and has since been completed, the council’s application was refused.
The Government has until December 31st 2013 to approve or decline applications for forestry grants but because of the delay at the Rural Land Registry and the way the system works, Rugby Borough Council would have to reapply for the grant as though it was an entirely new application. As the deadline for applications has passed it is too late to do this, and so they have lost the opportunity to bring significant benefits to their town by planting trees. Rugby will have to wait for two years before the council can take these plans forward.
There are a number of other applicants who have also seen their applications fail, many through no fault of their own. Will they still be in a position to undertake tree planting in two years’ time?
The recent outbreak of Chalara or ash dieback highlighted the danger of importing young trees which can provide an access point for pests and diseases. The business model for many tree producers has involved taking seed from the UK and growing it on in continental Europe – in some cases there was a lack of understanding or transparency that this practice was going on. The Woodland Trust is obviously very concerned about the disease implications of this and has committed to sourcing all the trees that we use from UK collected seed and grown for the entirety of their life in the UK. In the longer term we would like to see production levels of UK sourced and grown trees to be sufficient to meet all the needs of UK forestry and woodland creation.
But this cannot happen overnight. It takes time to source seed, propagate and nurture the trees, but there is also a need to set up the infrastructure to deliver these aims. The Trust will be selecting a small number of nurseries who will contract grow UK collected seed for us. We will also be working with partners to develop seed orchards; a seed orchard is a way of producing significant amounts of seed of a wide genetic mix. Seed orchards for species such as wild cherry already exist but there has been no investment in slower-growing species, such as oak, or rarer species such as wild service, and so there is a clear role for us here.
In order for any of this to be achievable, we need to be able to tell both the seed collectors and the nurseries what we expect our future requirements to be. A two year freeze on grants, and lack of clarity about what grants will be available in the future, has thrown all this up in the air.
Our vision is for a UK rich in woods and trees, enjoyed and valued by everyone – England continues to be one of the least wooded countries in Europe. To support the development of a more resilient and robust landscape, we want to create new native woodland with the help of communities, schools, organisations and individuals. Even without forestry grants, we will do as much as we can; other monies may be available although these do tend to be locally-based and for small-scale activities. For most people, planting trees at larger scale is only achievable with government support and the Government’s stated aim is to increase woodland cover for a whole host of benefits to society. If the area of woodland in England is to increase as it needs to, forestry grants are imperative.
The interest and enthusiasm for woods and trees (and a healthy resilient wooded landscape for the future) that has built up over the last couple of years could easily be lost over the next two years because of this unnecessary gap in funding. Over 27,000 people have signed our petition so far, calling on the new Forestry Minister to provide a solution in the form of interim grants. I hope you will too.
Simon Mageean, England Director, Woodland Trust and member of the England Woodland Grants Scheme Applicants’ Focus Group