Taking out Yorkshire farmland for Northern Forest tree planting is 'complex'

Farmers attracted by new financial incentives to plant trees as part of the ambitious Northern Forest project have been advised to think carefully before taking land away from food production.

Over the next 25 years, the Woodland Trust and Community Forest Trust aim to plant more than 50 million trees to connect community forests in the North and farmland is considered "integral" in achieving that vision. Picture by Gary Longbottom.

Northern forest to span width of the country along M62Sir William Worsley: Trees must be at the heart of our environmental visionStay up to date with all the latest rural affairs news, views and features by joining our new Facebook groupUsing government funds, the Woodland Trust is offering to cover up to 85 per cent of the costs to landowners who want to plant more than half a hectare of woodland on their land.

As reported in The Yorkshire Post this week, the subsidised tree-planting incentives through the MOREwoods scheme are specifically aimed at landowners operating across an expansive area extending from Liverpool to Hull via Leeds.

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The National Farmers’ Union said the announcement makes tree planting “a more attractive option” for farmers but they have “complex” decisions to make.

James Copeland, the union’s regional environment and land use adviser for Yorkshire and the North East, said: “Farmers across the region play a unique role in producing food while protecting and enhancing our countryside.

“Taking land out of agricultural production is complex, so farmers will have to consider both the risks and benefits to their business carefully.

“Provided that the importance of food production is not forgotten, the MOREwoods scheme does offer a new opportunity for farmers to further contribute to creating a richer habitat for wildlife to thrive, and a natural environment for people to enjoy.”

Over the next 25 years, the Woodland Trust and Community Forest Trust aim to plant more than 50 million trees to connect community forests in the North. At present, the area has below average woodland cover; 7.6 per cent compared to the UK average of 13 per cent.

The Woodland Trust said farmers, smallholders and landowners are an “integral” part of its vision and it has opened applications for tree planting between November this year and next March. Applicants must be willing to plant currently non-wooded land at a density of between 1,000 and 1,600 trees per hectare.

The Country Land and Business Association welcomed incentivised planting, saying it “strongly overlaps” with government policy direction to reward landowners and farmers for the ‘public benefits’ they provide, but its northern director Dorothy Fairburn warned the project must be managed appropriately.

“The key to success is not just grants to support establishment of new forests but recognition of the long-term management requirement for forestry, so it is essential to engage with landowners early doors,” Miss Fairburn said.

For this project to succeed it will also be vital to have in place the right regulatory and planning framework that allows landowners to exploit commercial forestry and other leisure opportunities.”

The Woodland Trust insists the Northern Forest will bring many benefits, including reduced flooding risks for up to 190,000 people and storing thousands of tonnes of carbon.