The pressure to meet the UK net zero target is rising. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) latest report stated that limiting global warming to around 1.5°C will require global greenhouse gas emissions to peak before 2025 at the very latest, and must be reduced by 43% by 2030; methane emissions must also be reduced by approximately a third.
This increasing focus is evident in new government policy. Specifically relevant to rural businesses, it is reflected within agricultural policy, particularly through the agricultural transition plan and updated guidance such as Farming Rules for Water and the urea fertiliser use consultation.
Through this time of environmental challenge, focus and restriction, also comes opportunity for UK farms, unsurprisingly, to plant trees in a bid to increase the UK woodland footprint. The Tree Action Plan, which sets a target of tripling planting rates by the year 2024 (30,000 hectares of trees per year thereafter), seems to be an opportunity becoming increasingly popular amongst farmers and landowners.
However, the NFU have since stressed the importance of climate-friendly food security, focus on British grown saplings and matching species with the right farmland. They are also urging the government to address barriers surrounding tenancy clauses (30% UK agricultural land mass) to prevent limited uptake as well as ensuring farmers are compensated for the loss in capital value of their land once planted.
Read on for an insight into support for woodland creation and opportunities it may provide.
Woodland creation schemes
There are various opportunities to acquire capital funding and income incentives for woodland planting schemes. See below for a list of the most notable options:
Woodland creation schemes
Woodland management schemes
Woodland carbon schemes
The Forestry Commission have produced a useful comparison table including most of the grants above >
Agroforestry offers an additional concept to integrated farming systems. Throughout global history, agroforestry techniques have been used to good effect. The term “agroforestry” covers multiple production systems, such as silvopasture and silvoarable enterprises.
There are considerations when deciding to pursue agroforestry. Depending on what you are setting out to achieve with agroforestry, you must determine your tree species requirement and planting layouts. For example, silvopasture does not necessarily require widened, rowed planting. However, poisonous species of tree must be avoided and trees more resilient to livestock browsing are advisable.
Challenges of agroforestry
Like planting any crop, strong establishment is vital. Tree establishment is inherently much more protracted and as such, the trees are vulnerable for a longer period of time. Furthermore, whilst the trees are in their infancy, there is a cost to ensuring their protection, using tree guards, particularly if the pasture below is already being grazed.
Silvoarable has further complexities, such as ensuring trees grow straight, are well pruned both above ground, to prevent difficulties with machinery and below at their roots, to prevent unacceptable competition with integrated arable crops.
Where using woodland creation grants and schemes such as those listed earlier, pay close attention to the conditions and prescriptions, as some can be restrictive when it comes to agroforestry and wider uses of the woodland.
Benefits to agroforestry
Using agroforestry as part of an integrated farming system offers various environmental and production. benefits. For example, tree planting significantly reduces soil erosion and run-off, alongside boosting soil health and potentially reducing nitrogen requirements.
Furthermore, whilst offering shelter to livestock, it also provides an enhanced habitat which will increase biodiversity including the presence of many beneficial species.
Alongside these integrated benefits, woodland creation and agroforestry could be a real opportunity for the creation of new enterprises and brand differentiation. For example, the presence of trees could enhance the natural beauty of your farm and create opportunities for tourism and hospitality. From a marketing point of view, it could also offer further added value to your produce, such as silvopasture reared beef or lamb.
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