Sustainable Farming Scheme: The 10% requirement for woodland

To receive support from the developing Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS), farmers must consign 10% of their acreage to woodland. This has raised many questions among farmers and landowners. Our Senior Policy Advisor, Fraser McAuley, updates us.
Tree-planting Wales

Trees and the Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS) have been a hot topic since the proposals were announced in July 2022 and the conversation continued this summer at the Royal Welsh Show. The blanket proposals have caused concerns for many of our members and the farming sector throughout Wales: we’ve outlined these concerns during a range of meetings with Welsh Government officials and Ministers. The result of which has been a commitment to some flexibility from the Government as can be seen from the update below. We will still influence the shape of the SFS proposals during the final consultation later this year, and we’ll be reaching out to the membership to help us with our response. We have further meetings with the Welsh Government during the forthcoming summer show season, so we urge members: please do get in touch to share your views and if you want to discuss anything more detail.

What is the Welsh Government trying to achieve?

  • The ambition is to design the scheme so it is accessible to all farms in all parts of Wales.
  • The scheme is based on three proposed layers which work together to achieve the scheme’s objectives of supporting farmers to produce food in a sustainable way whilst also lowering farms’ carbon footprint and enhancing biodiversity.
  • Farmers will receive a Baseline Payment for undertaking a range of Universal Actions to achieve the scheme objectives. The Baseline Payment will give farmers certainty at the same time as giving them the building blocks to go on and do more.
  • Welsh Government are considering changing the Baseline Payment to include payment for all woodland and habitat areas along with the other actions.

What is the 10% requirement?

  • Welsh Government have proposed that each farm should have at least 10% tree cover as part of the Universal Actions and therefore Baseline Payment.
  • Existing woodland and individual trees in fields and in hedgerows count towards the 10% requirement.
  • Eligible trees include deciduous, conifer, fruit trees and others.
  • Welsh Government understand tree planting is not feasible in all parts of Wales. The 10% would be calculated on the area of a farm remaining after deductions for un-plantable areas.
  • Examples of un-plantable areas which could be removed include:
    • Tenanted Land where tree planting is excluded from an agreement
    • Priority habitats such as heathlands, species rich meadows and peat bogs (and other areas defined by the Wales Environment Act 2016 Section 7). This also includes designated areas such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), or areas recognised as important for priority species such as ground nesting birds.
    • Features such as buildings, scree, roads or ponds, and physical constraints such as certain coastal locations and high altitudes.
    • For example, a 100 hectare farm may include 30 ha of peatland, yards and roads. The 30 ha would be removed from the whole farm size for the purpose of the tree cover action, so 10% of the remaining 70 ha would be required as tree cover – ie 7 ha.
  • These changes will ensure more farmers are able to meet the 10% from the start of the scheme in 2025.
  • The tree cover does not need to be in place from day 1. Planting additional trees for those that do not have the 10% will take time. The Welsh government proposes to give those farmers up to 5 years to plant trees to achieve this.
  • Areas of tree cover which also have habitat ground cover will count towards the 10% requirement for trees and the 10% for habitat.

What benefits will this provide?

  • Welsh Government has a challenging target to create 43,000 hectares of new woodland by 2030 to help respond to climate change. Farmers play a significant role in helping achieve this target and they will support you to do this.
  • By asking all farmers to manage existing woodland, and for some to create new woodland through the Scheme, the load will be spread throughout Wales. This should help avoid large scale changes to land ownership and use, helping to keep farmers on the land.
  • The Welsh Government will work with farmers who might need or want to plant any additional trees in a way that they become an asset to the farm. For example, by planting more shelter-belts and trees in field corners to provide shelter from extreme weather, and biosecurity barriers on farm boundaries.
  • The aim is to use trees to support food production alongside action to tackle climate change. It is not targeted at removing valuable productive agricultural land. Additional trees in the landscape can reduce the impacts of flood and increasingly hot summers by providing shelter for livestock, therefor of direct benefit to farms and rural communities.

Next steps

  • In contrast to how trees were excluded from payable areas in the Basic Payment Scheme, trees will be included in SFS payments in recognition of the many benefits they provide.
  • Woodland planted in advance of the SFS will count towards the SFS actions. The Welsh Government urges any farmers who have the opportunity to take advantage of current funding schemes to do so.
    • For planting less than 2ha farmers can apply for support from the Small Grants – Woodland Creation scheme. This scheme has a straightforward application process for planting on land which is agriculturally improved or of low environmental value.
    • A woodland creation plan is needed for planting proposals over 2 ha, and once verified by NRW, can be used to apply for woodland creation grant in any application window for up to 5 years if no changes are made. Farmers are encouraged to apply for a woodland creation plan now.
    • See Forestry grants | GOV.WALES for woodland planting grant information.

Key contact:

Fraser McAuley
Fraser McAuley Senior Policy Adviser, CLA Cymru