We must grasp Brexit opportunity to increase UK woodland, say landowners

16 August 2016

New data showing a sharp decline in the planting of new productive British woodland highlights why the UK must grasp the opportunity created by Brexit for a better policy on woodland creation and management, say landowners.

The CLA, which represents farmers, landowners and other rural businesses has responded to a report on changes in canopy cover between 2006 and 2015 published last week by the Forestry Commission saying it shows that the Government’s strategy for increasing woodland cover in England is failing.

The CLA, whose members own or manage over half the rural land in England and Wales, says that many landowners want to improve and increase woodland on the land they manage, but current policies create too many barriers.

The CLA is calling for the establishment of a new world-leading UK Food, Farming and Environmental policy to succeed the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). It says this policy must tackle the current barriers to woodland management, and encourage farmers and other land managers to plant new trees.

CLA President Ross Murray said: “Woodlands are a much-loved feature of the UK landscape and their importance is far more than aesthetic. Trees are vital to helping improve water quality and delivering natural flood defences, as well as helping tackle climate change and creating habitats for wildlife. Growing trees is also an important business activity and the forestry sector is a critical part of the rural economy.

“This latest Forestry Commission data reinforces our concern that policies that are supposed to encourage more woodland planting in England are not working. This failure is caused in part because of longstanding EU Common Agricultural Policy rules that exclude woodland land from those qualifying for pillar 1 basic payment scheme payments. This actively disincentives tree planting. Environmental schemes developed under other aspects of the CAP – pillar 2 payments – have so far failed to provide adequate incentives to redress the balance.

“As the UK develops a policy to replace the CAP, increasing tree planting must be a priority. The Government has already set a target of 11 million new trees by 2020. This challenge can and should be addressed as part of the design of a new domestic Food, Farming and Environment policy.”

The CLA has raised its concerns with Ministers and looks forward to working with Defra to develop a Food, Farming and Environmental policy that will help deliver good outcomes for UK woodlands, the forestry sector and the wider environment.

Click here to read the Forestry Commission report

Click here to read the CLA's New Opportunities series or click on the icon below to read the briefing which makes the case for a UK Food, Farming and Environmental policy.