Confor: England set for new wave of tree planting

A tree planting boom is on the cards for England, Confor predicts, after a forestry innovation fund received applications to plant more than 1000ha of new woodland.

Confor anticipates boom in tree planting. Image: Pixabay
Confor anticipates boom in tree planting. Image: Pixabay

Rory Stewart MP launched the £1m Forestry Innovation Fund at Modern Forestry: Unleashing the Rural Potential at Westminster last November.

Now, Forestry Commission figures have revealed a very strong response to the fund, which encourages schemes that will promote the growth of the forest industry in their region and have the support of their Local Enterprise Partnership.

The Woodland Creation Planning Grant (WCPG) is financed by the fund, to address common complaints that significant upfront costs are holding back potential planting schemes.

The WCPG pilot ran from December 2015 to February 2016. Forestry Commission England received 11 applications, offering grants to all applicants and 10 of these offers are being taken forward - relating to proposals for a total of 1,064ha of new productive woodland and ranging from 33 to 339 hectares in area.

Stuart Goodall, chief executive of Confor, said: "This is excellent news, but it is vital that these schemes move to rapid approval.

"If this scheme works as both we and Government hope, then it can act as a catalyst to drive up new planting in England, which has been disappointingly low in recent years."

Goodall, who received confirmation of the fund in a letter from Chancellor George Osborne ahead of last November's Westminster conference, added: "This scheme shows that a relatively modest sum of money can unlock significant new planting schemes and we look forward to further innovative approaches by the UK Government."

Confor recently expressed disappointment that only 564ha of new woodland was created in England between April 2015 and March 2016, a fraction of the of the amount needed to meet the Westminster Government's annual target of 5,000 hectares. This has led to concerns, from the nursery sector in particular, of a crisis of confidence in the forestry sector.

Goodall added: "We must address the bigger issue of the poor uptake of the Countryside Stewardship scheme and the bureaucracy that is holding back potential planting. What the new figures show is that innovative schemes can have a big impact - and we need more of this kind of approach.

"If we can get 1000 hectares of applications within just two months, there is clearly interest out there - and we will work with the Government to tap into that demand and deliver the new planting needed to stimulate England's rural economies."

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