R J Trees and Hedging – thoughts on woodland creation

With grants at a new higher level (since January 2023), and the race to net zero requiring urgent action, more and more farmers and landowners are considering woodland creation and agroforestry.

Broadly there are two types of woodland creation, with high degrees of overlap

  • productive woodlands where the main objective is producing timber for sale.  Some people think that productive woodlands are always ranked rows of spruce but actually it is fairly common for productive woodlands to incorporate broadleaf trees as well as conifers.  Whilst 100% conifer plantations tend not to be too popular with local communities or wildlife organisations, they fulfil a very useful role in timber production (spruce is ready in about 25-30 years whereas oak is nearer 100 years), they do provide some biodiversity benefit and it is worth bearing in the mind that the UK currently imports 80% of the timber used here even though the weather is entirely suitable to growing our own timber and those imports cost the UK economy £7bn pa – the UK is the largest importer of timber after China which honestly seems a bit barmy!
  • Conservation woodlands where the main objective is biodiversity, though there can be timber for sale in addition to the biodiversity benefits

The species of tree planted varies between these two types of woodland but with overlaps (Beech, Oak, Birch, Sweet Chestnut and Cherry are good for timber production and also excellent for biodiversity).   There are also decisions to be made on whether to grow fast growing trees that can be coppiced or felled and restocked on a frequent cycle or whether to grow high value hardwood broadleaves.

What about agroforestry as an alternative (or in addition to) woodland creation?

Combining forestry with farming is called agroforestry and it’s becoming increasingly mainstream.  All of the benefits of woodlands can be achieved by integrating trees into farmland without setting aside a separate woodland and in addition, growing trees for timber can lead to a really useful source of diversification income for farmers.

Woodland Grants available

Utilising more marginal land to plant trees under the England Woodland Creation Offer provides three layers of funding: 

  1. Covering capital costs associated with planting
  2. Stackable payments for the public benefits trees provide such as improved water quality and flood management
  3. An annual maintenance payment lasting ten years

In addition, revenue streams can be generated from tree planting through the sale of carbon credits to the Government or on the private market under the Woodland Carbon Code from as early as 5 years after planting. Furthermore, harvesting trees for timber and firewood can also provide reliable short or long-term income streams for farming businesses.

What about using land for woodlands that could be used for food production?

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine there has been increasing focus on food security and it is right that questions are raised if land suitable for food production is diverted into woodland creation, but our understanding is that woodland creation is encouraged on marginal land rather than on good fields. With over 70% of the UK land mass being farmland, there is certainly a lot of marginal land available.

The benefits of woodland creation

In addition to the timber production or biodiversity benefits, the creation of new woodlands provides many other benefits to farmers, some of which in themselves can increase food production eg protection of new lambs from hypothermia, shelterbelt woodlands can decrease winter feed costs, improved pollination of insect pollinated crops, reduced soil erosion retaining the topsoil from which high quality food is grown, improved soil structure due to the breaking down of leaf mould enabling cattle to be kept outside for far longer and decreasing fertiliser usage.  There are many benefits for society – flood reduction, improved water quality, cooling effect (even a single tree can reduce temperature in the immediate surroundings), and not least carbon storage.  Grown to maturity a small tree stores up to 376kg of carbon, a medium tree 511kg and a large tree 3350kg and one hectare of broadleaf woodland offsets 350 tonnes of carbon which gives a considerable amount of carbon credits that can be sold.

In addition to all of the above benefits there’s also the amenity value of woodlands, as place for the public to safely walk or cycle, or for farmers to establish camping or glamping sites to diversify income streams.

Is it effective to actively maintain old woodlands?

It is thought that about 40% of Britain’s woodlands are not actively managed which does not maximise any of the benefits of woodlands and leaves woodlands vulnerable to pests and diseases.  The Forestry Commission aims to bring an additional 20,000 hectares of existing woodland in England into active management by 2024/25 and there are grants available.

How to go about establishing a new woodland

There are two things that need to happen in a coordinated way

  • A decision on which grants to apply for
  • Which species are suited to the site you have in mind (and that will help to determine the emphasis between productive woodland and conservation woodland)

And our perspective as a tree grower

  • Due to increasing demand, there is currently a severe shortage of certain species of tree saplings so order (from a nursery growing their own plants) well in advance, even a year in advance
  • Don’t skimp on tree protection (it can be grant aided) for the first 5 years of the life of the trees you are planting
  • Ray Jenkins has advised many farmers, landowners and forestery consultancies on suitable tree species for woodland creation and is always happy to be contacted on 01989 552028

For advice from a forester, find one at the Institute of Chartered Foresters.

This is a link to the page on our website which lists all the woodland trees we offer, most of which we grow ourselves from seed and hardwood cuttings in Herefordshire.

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