Managing woodland

CLA Policy Researcher Lorenza Micaletti analyses the key findings from a ELM Test and Trial project on woodland and forestry

As part of the Defra co-design process for the new Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes, there is a program of ‘test and trials’. The CLA has already completed two ELM Test and Trials in 2020 – one on incentives for Sustainable Farming and Forestry practices and one on the Wildlife Estates accreditation. Our most recent ELM Test and Trial started in February 2021 focusing on woodland and forestry payment rates across all three Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes.

Aim of trial

ELM Schemes

Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI)

Local Nature Recovery (LNR)

Landscape Recovery (LR)


Promoting sustainable practices through use of standards.

Local projects to create or maintain habitats

Large scale land use change

How farm forestry and woodland is included

Tree and woodland management standard for established woodland.

Creation of new woodland including connecting habitats to form networks; riparian woodland, and natural flood management.

Large-scale forest and woodland creation and improvement.

The focus of the project was on management of established woodland, woodland creation and early years management, and collaboration for large scale planting. As part of this test, the CLA launched an online survey, ran five workshops and held 15 in-depth interviews. The project gave CLA members the opportunity to help shape the woodland aspects of the future ELM schemes.

Management of established woodland

Management of established woodland is very limited with only 8% of participants undertaking regular management. There was a range of reasons but included a lack of knowledge, costs of equipment and no economic return. This was particularly the case for small woodland.

The proposed payment, through the SFI scheme, for managing existing woodlands will encourage more woodland into management, but the SFI Pilot payment rate of £49/ha was considered too low for the majority. For many, the biggest barrier was not knowing how to manage their woodland to improve biodiversity, so payments that cover the costs of advice will be important.

Creation and maintenance of new woodland

It is clear that there is a lot of variation in understanding of tree planting costs. While there was an expected variation due to the size and location of the plantation, what was interesting was that those who had little experience of tree planting tended to estimate tree planting costs at a higher level than those with experience. This might indicate that there is a perception of high costs that are perhaps not real. However, from the workshops, only five per cent of the participants felt that Countryside Stewardship woodland creation payment levels were good enough. When asked about early year maintenance payments, most felt that the current rates and duration are about right. As with management of established woodland, much of the reluctance to plant trees related to the need for specialist advice on plantation design and uncertainty about approvals. Since this project was started, the Forestry Commission has launched the new England Woodland Creation Offer (EWCO).

England Woodland Creation Offer

This new woodland scheme has planting grants that cover 100% of standards costs (up to £8,500/ha), along with annual maintenance payments for 10 years. In addition, there are optional supplements available if the woodland that delivers specified public benefits. In many instances, EWCO adds up to a considerably more attractive offer than under Countryside Stewardship and is worth looking at if you are considering tree planting in the near future. More information can be found at:

Collaboration and large-scale planting

The government has set high targets for annual tree planting as part of the commitment to a net zero economy by 2050, alongside a plan to create a Nature Recovery Network that delivers joined up habitat at scale. This will require large-scale planting of trees which could be incentivised through ELM schemes. When asked about collaboration to achieve larger landscape scale planting, the response was mixed. The majority of the participants were interested (52%) or uncertain (35%). For those considering collaboration, the key was to have their own program within a large scheme rather than one large program across different land holdings.

Agricultural Transition (England)

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