£30m Defra tree cash set to fill funding gap

Defra says it has found cash to overcome the Rural Development Programme funding gap that meant new tree planting grants were unavailable to landowners in 2014/15.

The gap threatened tree growers livelihoods and was the result of rejigging European CAP cash priorities.

But Defra has now stated that it will now approve new applications for planting grants in 2014.

If the current level of applications is insufficient to deliver a level of planting in line with the overall annual rate under the existing Rural Development Programme it will look at "inviting further applications later in 2014 before the new programme comes into effect".
Government also intends, as part of the new Rural Development Programme, to offer planting grants in 2015 in advance of new environmental land management agreements coming into effect in January 2016.

Defra will spend £30m in the next financial year on 2,000ha of new woodland - four million trees. Some 200,000 hectares of existing woodland will also be protected or improved as part of the investment.

This cash will be split between £6 million on new planting in 2014/15, £24 million on woodland management, including maintaining the benefits of past woodland creation projects.

A Defra representative told HW: "This is our way of overcoming the funding gap."

HTA horticulture head Raoul Curtis-Machin said Defra should have given more notice and had alternatives in place earlier to handle tree planting orders for 2014 so growers were "not left in the lurch" but added: "This is great news for growers, and a very welcome boost at the start of the year. It will help businesses to plan ahead and hopefully provide job security. The UK horticulture industry is really doing its bit to try to provide clean, disease-free quality plants and being able to trust in a viable marketplace helps the process hugely."

Confor said it had pressurised Defra into maintaining the levels of woodland planting in England in 2014/15.

"We are very pleased that Government has listened to us and taken action to provide for continuity of new planting in the coming years", said Caroline Harrison, Confor’s manager for England.

"Confor had raised concerns with ministers about the impact of this period of transition [the funding gap], and the need for Government to take exceptional action to protect rural jobs. It is good to see that they have understood the gravity of the issue and taken the action we requested."


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