Farmers urged to take advantage of new woodland grants from Defra and Forestry Commission

Woodland at Hempstead.Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Woodland at Hempstead.Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

Landowners have been urged to act fast to take advantage of a new tranche of government cash aimed at creating new woodlands.

Defra farming minister George Eustice confirmed the latest round of Countryside Stewardship funding will include around £17m for the Woodland Creation Grant and the Woodland Planning Grant, working towards the government ambition to achieve 12pc woodland cover in England by 2060.

The fund opens on 3 January.

Jason Cantrill, farm business consultant in the Norwich office of property agency Strutt and Parker said: 'Farmers and other land managers can apply for capital grants to pay for the trees themselves and associated protection products such as guards and fencing –– but there is a cap of £6,800 per hectare for capital items covering both planting and protection. There is also a supporting maintenance grant of £200 per hectare available for 10 years.

'While the application window does not open until the New Year, the forms are available now so people can make a start on them. It's a good idea to get on with it now and take advantage of what for some is a quieter time of year. It also gives woodland officers more time to make a site visit and make any necessary amendments to an application.'

There is a minimum area of three hectares, and new woodland creation must contribute to meeting biodiversity objectives, or the reduction of flood risk or water pollution in order to meet the criteria. But Mr Cantrill said land already under an existing stewardship deal is most likely ineligible for the scheme.

Meanwhile, a separate grant scheme launched by Forestry Commission England to fund the creation of larger woodlands across the country, is also now open for applications.

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The Woodland Carbon Fund has been created to support the planting of multipurpose woodlands over 30 hectares in size, providing 'opportunities to work in partnership at a landscape scale' and to improve public access to woodland.

Maximum grants will range from £6,800 to £8,500 per hectare depending on the location, with the higher rate available in areas surrounding urban developments and at sites providing permissive access to the public on foot.

Edward Fitzalan Howard, land agent at Savills rural agency in Norwich, said: 'This particular scheme will run alongside the existing Countryside Stewardship Woodland Creation Grant but will be steered towards larger scale woodland creation with an emphasis on commercially productive species and public access.

'The Woodland Carbon Fund is a demand-led grant scheme which has been designed to boost the rate of woodland creation in England, whilst also demonstrating how woodland creation can help to meet the government's future carbon targets. There is no set closing date and this will be very much dependent on uptake so we would advise landowners to apply for this grant funding at the earliest opportunity.'

For more information, see the Defra website or the Forestry Commission website.