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Tuesday, 02 May 2017 07:00

Post-Brexit Britain needs more trees

Bright Blue is today launching a new campaign calling for the next Government to reform and guarantee tree planting grants for farmers after Brexit.

England is currently set to miss the government target, promised in the 2015 Conservative election manifesto, of planting 11 million new trees between 2015 and 2020. This is largely because the main mechanism for incentivising tree planting, the Countryside Stewardship scheme, has been insufficiently attractive to farmers.

Brexit provides the opportunity to improve tree planting grants, to reduce the complexity around the application process and to better design the fiscal incentives. Bright Blue has launched a campaign, backed by Conservative MPs and a range of civic society organisations, calling for tree planting grants to be a priority in the Government’s post-Brexit domestic agricultural policy.

Commenting, Neil Parish, MP for Tiverton and Honiton and Chair of the EFRA Select Committee, said:

"Britain has too few trees. This means we miss out on the many benefits they offer, from providing sustainably-sourced timber to capturing and storing carbon. One of the opportunities of Brexit is that we can improve the way we incentivise farmers to create new woodland. The Government should make tree planting a priority when designing its post-Brexit agricultural policy."

Commenting, Rebecca Pow, MP for Taunton Deane, said:

"Trees are effectively our best friends. The environmental, social and economic benefits they provide for all of us cannot be over-estimated. As such it is essential to increase the number of trees planted and an effective grant scheme to incentivise farmers and landowners to plant should be a priority."

Commenting, Sam Hall, senior researcher at Bright Blue, said:

"We aren't planting enough new trees. We're not on track to achieve the target, included in the 2015 Conservative manifesto, of planting 11 million new trees by 2020 and, by not doing so, are failing to advance multiple public policy objectives.

"After we leave the EU's Common Agricultural Policy, a reformed, more ambitious grant scheme is required to better incentivise farmers to create new woodland. This would lock up more carbon, support biodiversity, improve air and water quality, and give a boost to the leisure and timber industries."

Full text of the campaign:

UK should guarantee and reform grants for farmers for tree planting after Brexit

Trees are vital national assets. Our forests are rich habitats, supporting diverse wildlife and plants. In the uplands, trees help to improve soil and water quality, slow water flows and mitigate the impact of flooding. Downstream, in cities and towns, they help to absorb harmful air pollution, protecting public health. Trees are an important economic resource in the tourism, leisure, and timber industries. They also act as a store of carbon dioxide, contributing to efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and tackle climate change.

Yet despite these manifest benefits, England has one of the lowest levels of forest coverage in the Europe. Just 10% of its land surface is covered with trees, compared to an EU average of 38%. It is current government policy to grow coverage levels to 12% by 2060, including a target to plant 11 million trees by 2020. But on current planting rates this will not be met. Last year, tree planting fell 86% short of the indicative annual target.

The main government policy for incentivising tree planting, the Countryside Stewardship scheme which is part of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), has had very low uptake in its first year, and has been criticised for its restrictive one-month application window, the poorly designed financial incentives, and its slow decision-making process. As a result of Brexit and our departure from CAP, the future of grants for tree planting is now uncertain. Currently, only those grants that have already been awarded have been guaranteed post-Brexit.

We are calling on the next Government to commit to providing grants for tree planting to farmers after the UK leaves the EU, as a priority for its new domestic agricultural policy. The financial incentives should be at least as strong as they are currently. Grants should be focused on woodland that delivers multiple public benefits: materials for housebuilding, carbon sequestration, wildlife conservation, and natural flood management. Post-Brexit there is an opportunity to reform the administration of the current scheme to address some of its major deficiencies, for instance, by extending the application window to make it open all year round, by ensuring farmers are eligible to collect other grants alongside those for tree planting, and by introducing a maximum waiting time for the decision about the grant to be made.

Last modified on Tuesday, 02 May 2017 09:54

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