UK should guarantee and reform grants for farmers for tree planting after Brexit
Trees are vital national assets. Our forests are rich habitats, supporting diverse wildlife and plants. In the uplands, trees help to improve soil and water quality, slow water flows and mitigate the impact of flooding. Downstream, in cities and towns, they help to absorb harmful air pollution, protecting public health. Trees are an important economic resource in the tourism, leisure, and timber industries. They also act as a store of carbon dioxide, contributing to efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and tackle climate change.
Yet despite these manifest benefits, England has one of the lowest levels of forest coverage in the Europe. Just 10% of its land surface is covered with trees, compared to an EU average of 38%. It is current government policy to grow coverage levels to 12% by 2060, including a target to plant 11 million trees by 2020. But on current planting rates this will not be met. Last year, tree planting fell 86% short of the indicative annual target.
The main government policy for incentivising tree planting, the Countryside Stewardship scheme which is part of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), has had very low uptake in its first year, and has been criticised for its restrictive one-month application window, the poorly designed financial incentives, and its slow decision-making process. As a result of Brexit and our departure from CAP, the future of grants for tree planting is now uncertain. Currently, only those grants that have already been awarded have been guaranteed post-Brexit.
We are calling on the next Government to commit to providing grants for tree planting to farmers after the UK leaves the EU, as a priority for its new domestic agricultural policy. The financial incentives should be at least as strong as they are currently. Grants should be focused on woodland that delivers multiple public benefits: materials for housebuilding, carbon sequestration, wildlife conservation, and natural flood management. Post-Brexit there is an opportunity to reform the administration of the current scheme to address some of its major deficiencies, for instance, by extending the application window to make it open all year round, by ensuring farmers are eligible to collect other grants alongside those for tree planting, and by introducing a maximum waiting time for the decision about the grant to be made.
Bright Blue's campaign to guarantee and reform tree planting grants after Brexit has been supported by the following organisations:
Bright Blue is an independent, think tank for liberal conservatism. Partner organisations do not necessarily endorse other Bright Blue policies.
Bright Blue is still seeking support for its latest campaign on tree planting. If an organisation would like to add their voice to our campaign, please email Sam Hall (firstname.lastname@example.org) for further details.