Article by Jez Ralph, Forestry & Timber Specialist, The Diverse Regeneration Company
Jez Ralph, Forestry & Timber Specialist at The Diverse Regeneration Company starts a series of articles looking at the benefits and importance of woodland planting and management, as an increasingly popular form of farm diversification.
It seems that almost everywhere, people are talking about the benefits of woodlands, about afforesting large areas of land, about connecting and managing existing woodland better. As such the rise and rise of woodlands as increasingly important parts of the landscape and of farm units continues on.
Rather than getting simpler, the woodland elements of landscapes seem to be getting more complex; native woodland, plantation forestry, hedgerows, agroforestry, individual trees – all part of the woodland mix. This complexity can seem daunting but this complexity can also give great opportunities and benefits to those willing to give it more than a quick glance.
As we move out of Europe the new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) for land owners, is likely to give wider opportunities to those interested in expanding or managing tree-cover on their land. Over the next few months we will consider some of these opportunities in more detail but for now, let’s start by looking at the overall picture.
The first thing to say is that our landscape will change in the coming decades and trees will become a more important part of that landscape. That’s not to say they are taking over, even achieving the government’s target of 30,000ha of new planting each year, will have little effect on how our landscape looks. But they can have a big effect on how land is managed. Yes, some productive land may end up with trees on it, but if the soil and ecological benefits of these trees actually increase yield then is this a problem? Those who will be successful in integrating trees and woodlands into their holdings will not be those who see just a subsidy opportunity but those who can use them as tools towards long-term ecological and financial resilience.
To highlight this, over the past two years The DR Company has been putting a framework in place to understand farm woodlands better. Part of this has been to understand owner attitudes to woods and trees on their holdings. A study was carried out in North Devon and East Cornwall in the old South West Forest area. What it showed was stark.
Many people took advantage of very attractive grants some 20 years ago and for those that continued to actively manage their woodland, they have a vibrant, productive, ecologically rich resource. Those that took the grant, planted trees and then left the woodland to fend for itself, now find these woodlands in a poor state, providing few benefits. Let’s be clear, this isn’t usually the fault of the owner. Expert support provided for the initial planting just disappeared leaving people with little knowledge of woodland management, to wonder what to do and how to maintain them.
So The Diverse Regeneration Company has gone a step further to see if this expert advice can be brought back. The first stage of this has been to produce detailed costings and profit & loss for a whole range of woodland planting types from traditional to innovative. These will help landowners understand the implications of potential new planting schemes, not from the short-term grant opportunity, but from the potential benefits that planting can bring to a farm over the long-term.
We hope these detailed costings will be made available via expert advice and guidance to help inform funding applications for new planting or managing of existing woodland. One thing is for certain; the rise of the importance of trees and woodlands isn’t going to stop and those who choose to engage will reap the benefits of this old but new land use.
To find out how The DR Company can help if you are a land owner or forestry business please email: [email protected] and one of our advisors will be in touch. (We are all currently working remotely, so it may take us a little longer to respond than usual.)