Protecting our trees

CLA Senior Land Use Policy Adviser Graham Clark recommends farmers and land owners explore a new tree health scheme in England
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Until recent years, a new tree health scheme may have struggled to get the attention of landowners beyond those with woodland or a strong interest in trees. But the times - like the climate – are changing!

Does this affect me?

Nowadays, our trees are under threat from many pests and diseases, partly due to our changing climate. Most landowners have at least a few trees, whether they are in woodlands, hedgerows or on roadsides. With, for example, ash dieback likely to kill all but a tolerant few of our ash, tree health is something that most landowners, not the few, will be affected by over the coming years.

This could be by enforced early harvest of a larch plantation due to phytophthora or by having to fell dangerous ash dieback affected roadside trees, with all the expense of road closures and specialist contractors this can involve.

Limited support

Until now, support for landowners on these issues has been limited. In England, Countryside Stewardship continues to provide funding to remove diseased trees and restock – but only in woodlands. In Wales, Glastir Woodlands provides similar support - but only for larch woodlands affected by phytophthora. This leaves many with tree health issues without help.

New scheme

But, in England at least, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. The Forestry Commission’s new Tree Health Pilot Scheme https://www.gov.uk/guidance/tree-health-pilot-scheme#what-it-covers which opened in England this week, will start to provide support for a wider range of situations including help towards the costs of dealing with diseased trees outside woodlands.

Although only available in certain regions for now , they want to set up 100 agreements with landowners in the North West, South East and West Midlands to test different ways of slowing the spread of pests and diseases in certain trees – helping to inform a new Tree Health support scheme across England from 2024. Unfortunately, for members in Wales, there is no similar scheme as yet. But CLA is calling on Welsh Government to address this because tree pests and diseases are affecting Wales just as much as England.

A map of the pilot areas for the English scheme is available through the link above. But any landowner in these regions with ash, larch, sweet chestnut or spruce, which is affected by ash dieback, phytophthora, sweet chestnut blight or within the high risk area for spruce bark beetle, should look into the support available through the new scheme.

Don’t delay

Funding is available to help towards the costs of felling, restocking and maintenance, improving access, facilitation for group applications (perhaps neighbours with similar issues working as a group) and road closures and protected species surveys for ash dieback. Expressions of interest should be submitted without delay. The scheme is competitive and agreements will be issued based on maximising learning from the pilot.

Even for those in England who are not in these regions, if you have trees it would be worth finding out what support might be available to you from 2024. A couple of years soon goes by and, with ash dieback in particular, healthy looking trees in 2021 may be looking very sorry for themselves by 2024. Any potential help is worth knowing about.

Looking ahead

In any case, landowners are advised to regularly check the condition of their trees (and their insurance!), assess the risks and plan the appropriate actions. It is important that these steps are taken and - importantly – documented. Landowners need to be in a position to demonstrate that reasonable steps are being taken to address risks from dangerous trees.

Key contact:

Graham Clark
Graham Clark Senior Land Use Policy Adviser