England’s farmers to get paid more for tree planting

The UK Government is increasing the maximum amount of subsidy funding farmers in England can claim for planting trees on their land by 45% - despite Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s criticism of a similar scheme in Wales.

England’s farmers to get paid more for tree planting

The Department for Food, the Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) this week confirmed a boost for payments made under the England Woodland Creation Offer, which incentivizes farmers to add trees to less productive land and thereby contribute to national nature targets.

Farmers could previously claim up to £8,000 per hectare under the scheme, but this will be increased to £11,600. A further £900 is on offer for those planting on land least suited to food production, described as “Low-Sensitivity Land”.

All farmers are eligible to a £50 uplift in annual maintenance payments, which run for 15 years. To benefit from larger amounts of additional funding, farmers will need to create highly biodiverse woodlands and/or manage their land in a way that also improves flood resilience.

Additional funding is also on offer for those permitting recreational access to their trees. The Right to Roam campaign claims that two-thirds of England’s national landscapes have less than 10% of their land area open for public access.

The uplift in funding comes after Defra pledged to speed up application approvals for the England Woodland Creation Offer, particularly for Low-Sensitivity Land.

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow emphasised that the Government will need to increase tree cover to meet its legally binding climate and nature targets, but that this can be done without reducing food production.

She said: “Food security is a government priority, and we will continue to support our farmers and land managers to improve and conserve the natural environment and plant more trees, whilst making sure our best agricultural land is kept for food production.”

Farmers have staged protest across the UK and in the EU in recent weeks, calling for fairer payments in an increasingly challenging economic environment. The sector has faced challenges in recent months including hikes in energy and fertilizer costs, with little in the way of uplifts in payments from large retailers or governments. It is also fearing new post-Brexit trade deals that could undermine competitiveness, flooding European markets with cheap ingredients and foods.

Some of these farmers are protesting against greater environmental sustainability requirements being put upon them by national governments, but this is far from the only reason.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was spotted at one of these protests in Wales, whereby farmers showed opposition to a new requirement for 10% of suitable farmland nationally to be covered with trees by 2030.

Sunak called the proposals from the Welsh, Labour-run Government “shocking” and likely “damaging” to food security. The Woodland Trust estimates that the average farm in Wales already has 6-7% tree cover and therefore believes the uplift can be achieved while maintaining food security. Think-tank Green Alliance agrees and has also noted that tree planting on marginal land presents a much-needed opportunity for farmers to generate additional income at this challenging time.

Related news: UK Government unveils bumper crop of farming subsidies, partly with environmental focus

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