Tree-planting fund gap targeted

Defra has attempted to assure tree growers that a gap in funding for new tree planting may not be as bad as initially feared - but it will severely curtail planting from 2016.

Defra minister Dan Rogerson says there is money for tree-planting
Defra minister Dan Rogerson says there is money for tree-planting

As part of the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, no new Government grants will be available to landowners in England for tree planting and creating woods through the Rural Development Programme for England in 2014 and 2015.

The Woodland Trust estimates that half the Government's stated aim of 5,000ha of woodland will be planted in 2014-15 and there will be a two-thirds cut in 2015-16.

Tree growers including Oakover and Majestic, the HTA and the Woodland Trust are demanding interim arrangements to stem a two-year funding gap for new woodland planting as England enters a new rural development programme.

HTA policy manager Gary Scroby said: "A two-year void in Government-backed planting grants would put the commercial viability of many UK nurseries in extreme jeopardy. Several would not survive until the next grant scheme opens in 2016."

He added that the decline in planting goes against the Government's forestry policy statement in January and the "net result would be increased imports and increased biosecurity risks".

But new Defra minister Dan Rogerson told HW: "There is money in the programme to do some planting for next season (2014-15). I'm a new minister and I'm looking at opportunities after that. Money has been identified for next year."

Forestry Commission chairman Sir Harry Studholme added: "We have enough funding in the system for planting for 2014-15. It's about how to handle the transition period. We need to look at that but there are grants in the system for next year and I expect a reasonable level of planting - no significant decline."

Scroby said: "They have applications for 2,900ha to be planted in 2014, which is above the average. Whether the applications can be processed by the end of the year is a different matter."

Studholme added: "I'm deeply committed to continuing to expand forests. But if we're going to achieve the planting we need we have to find other sources of money."

Transition period Creating more woodland

Defra said: "If all proposed schemes were to go ahead in the transition period it would result in nearly 2,600ha of woodland in 2014, which would exceed anything achieved to date under the current Rural Development Programme for England."

Both Rogerson and Studholme could give no assurance that the Big Tree Plant, a four-year £1m Government scheme that ends in 2014, will be repeated in the same form. Rogerson said he wants to wait until the other half of the scheme has been planted.

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