Forestry in England: Seeing the wood for the trees Contents

3The grant schemes for forestry

The delivery of grants

24.As discussed earlier grants are key to incentivising private landowners to use their land for forestry. In this Chapter we discuss current forestry grants and changes needed, particularly to the Countryside Stewardship Scheme.

Current forestry grants

25.There are currently a number of grant schemes, including some at a local level, in place to support the creation and management of woodland. The main national forestry grant schemes are:

26.In this Report we focussed almost exclusively on the CSS and how it is administered. We noted that new forestry grant schemes have been introduced in recent years. The first round of the WCPG scheme, for example, which was launched last year, has taken forward 10 applications in its first round with the potential to assist with the creation of 1,064ha of new woodland.42 In future inquiries we may more closely scrutinise the success of other forestry grant schemes, such as the Woodland Creation Planning Grant and the Woodland Carbon Fund.

27.During this inquiry we focussed on the Countryside Stewardship Scheme as it has performed poorly in the planting year 2015–16, with only around 700ha of woodland created. This poor performance was cited by Ministers, the Forestry Commission and others as a reason for the low planting rates in the 2015–16 planting year. It was suggested that this performance would be remedied in future years as the scheme became more established.43 The Forestry Commission explained:

It was the first year of a new scheme. There is a seven-year cycle of EU schemes for support for the environment and woodland creation. If you look back, the first year of a new scheme is always a bad year. […] That is not to conceal the fact that there were well-known technical difficulties with the payment system and the application system.44

Current delivery of the Countryside Stewardship Scheme (CSS)

28.The three agencies involved in the current delivery of forestry Countryside Stewardship Scheme (CSS) were: the Forestry Commission, Natural England and the Rural Payments Agency (RPA). In summary applicants were required to register with the RPA “to get single business identifiers”,45 then Natural England managed and oversaw the application, while the Forestry Commission was responsible for giving expert advice to landowners.46

29.The Woodland Trust identified the way in which CSS was delivered as its major problem: “the money in the scheme is not bad. It could be better, but it is not terrible. However, the way in which it is administered at the moment acts as a real disincentive”.47 Other witnesses described the process as “tortuous”,48 “bureaucratic”,49 “overly complex”50 and “not fit for purpose”.51

30.Confor and the Minister52 identified the European Union as part of the problem with the current process for administering CSS:

part of the problem [with CSS] is the fact that we are part of the EU processes, so forestry grants are coming out of the CAP-funded budget and therefore there is the whole bureaucracy, checking against availability of other funds and the mapping processes in sector.53

31.The CLA explained landowners’ previous positive experience with a one-stop shop for the administration of CSS:

[landowners] had a woodland officer, who had an admin person sitting on the desk opposite to them. They worked very closely together on your applications, so if you had a problem you rang up the woodland officer. If he was out, you spoke to his admin officer. You got an answer really quickly. It was well organised and worked really well.54

We explored with other witnesses whether there was an appetite to return to a one-stop shop. The Woodland Trust, for example, told us “Having a one-stop shop that still sought to get the right inputs […] I am sure would help”.55

32.The issues relating to the administration of the Countryside Stewardship Scheme were raised with the Minister during a debate in Westminster Hall in December 2016. She undertook in that debate to look into the issues and “how further improvements could be made for the future” to CSS, particularly through a return to a one-stop shop in which administration and funding of forestry grants was unified in one agency.56 By the time the Minister appeared before our Sub-Committee in January 2017 she had already undertaken further work on returning to a one-stop shop and doubted that it was possible, concluding that “I am led to believe that there are elements of [the current system] that I cannot break up, where we just have one agency that deals with it” as there was an element of “splitting out” between the three agencies.57 Despite doubting the value of reinstituting a single point of contact the Minister hoped that with time the acknowledged problems would resolve themselves:

that we can get to a stage where the process becomes so straightforward that people feel they have not even had to deal with the RPA, apart from their cheque coming out at the end, and that we are in a process where it is a lot smoother.58

The Minister explained that she would undertake further work on the operation of CSS around the end of March, reporting back in late spring/early summer 2017.59 The Minister also offered to share those findings with us.60

33.Appropriate and well-functioning grant schemes are essential to increasing woodland creation. We welcome the Minister undertaking to further review the operation of the Countryside Stewardship Scheme around the end of March. We look forward to receiving the findings of her review by 1 July 2017.

34.The evidence we have received highlights how the present system for administering CSS is not fit for purpose. Previous experience illustrates that a one-stop shop for grants will provide a smoother and less bureaucratic service for CSS customers. We are unconvinced by the Minister’s arguments that it is not possible to return to a one-stop shop for grants. We recommend that the Government take steps now so that it is able to reinstate a one-stop shop for forestry grants on day one of the UK’s exit from the EU.

Agroforestry and multi-benefits

An integrated land use policy

35.In our Future flood prevention Report (HC 115) we discussed the contribution of tree planting to flood management as part of wider public policy.61 We heard from many witnesses about the “artificial distinction” between agriculture and forestry, which has “ensured forestry is not properly integrated into public policy thinking”,62 and forestry is viewed as a lesser option compared to agriculture. The Royal Forestry Society explained that:

The CAP is an active disincentive to planting trees as woodland is not included in pillar 1 basic payment schemes and is inadequately provided for under pillar 2 rural development programmes.63

Similarly, Natural England explained:

Generally, most of the farmers that we work with who may also be woodland owners prefer to carry on in their agricultural interests, because there are limitations to afforestation. You usually have to work quite hard to persuade land managers of the merits of moving from an agricultural system to a forest system.64

36.Defra acknowledged “integrating woodland and forestry into farm business models” as a future opportunity for forestry policy.65 The Minister explained that some of the current challenges with forestry grants stemmed from “a lot of the parameters and the auditing requirements [being] set by the European Commission”.66 Witnesses told us about the opportunities to change the Government’s approach to grants in light of the UK’s decision to leave the European Union. The CLA explained that there was:

a real opportunity to have a much more integrated food, farming and environment policy when we go forward, with forestry really embedded, where we can look at taking some of the land that is not too attractive to farm […] and use it for woodland creation.67

37.The Ancient Tree Forum similarly advocated the idea of a fresh start arising from the UK’s exit from the EU, stating that “Tree planting should be integrated with Defra’s 25 year environment plan and any replacement for CAP”.68 Plantlife called for specific grants which supported agroforestry, proposing that “Grant support should be made available for agroforestry, together with good training facilities and the promotion of diversification projects, i.e. provision of recreational activities and enterprises, rights of way management”.69

38.We recommend that in any grant schemes introduced by the Government after the UK leaves the European Union the dual benefits of agriculture and forestry should be recognised by having a single grant scheme to support both sectors.

39Countryside Stewardship”, GOV.UK

40 Forestry Commission England, “Forestry Innovation Fund”, 15 February 2017

41 Forestry Commission England, “Woodland Carbon Fund”, 15 February 2017

42 Defra (FOR0073) para 11

43 See for example Q19 [Forestry Commission].

45 Q6

46 Q2

52 See for example Q204.

56 HC Deb, 7 December 2016, col 87WH

60 Defra (FOR0081)

61 Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Second report of Session 2016–17,Future flood prevention, HC 115

62 Royal Forestry Society (FOR0019)

63 Royal Forestry Society (FOR0019)

65 Defra (FOR0073) para 64(iv)

68 Ancient Tree Forum (FOR0070)

69 Plantlife on behalf of PlantLink (FOR0063) para 3.3

17 March 2017