Farmers and landowners are showing a renewed interest in creating and managing woodlands on their land, say conservationists.
Improving the economic return from woodlands is “back on the radar” after Defra unveiled opportunities for woodland capital grants earlier this year.
Grants are available for woodland creation, addressing tree health issues and creating management plans. The full scheme will open in July under Countryside Stewardship.
On top of the potential for woodland grants, timber is an increasingly valuable resource for firewood and biomass.
Pheasant and deer shooting continue to be an important motivation for the creation of new woodland and management of existing wooded areas.
Meanwhile, introducing more sunlight by opening up rides and encouraging new growth in the shrub layer to improve habitat for pheasants and a broad range of wildlife.
Peter Thompson, farmland biodiversity adviser at the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), said much of the UK’s woodland was under managed or not managed at all – especially compared with other EU countries, such as Austria and Germany.
However, farmers and landowners were beginning to realise they could manage or create woodland and at least cover their costs.
Mr Thompson said: “UK woodland has been incredibly undermanaged, but suddenly within the last 12 months, the whole costing of managing woodland has become viable again.
“There are a lot of opportunities and people are just beginning to explore them. Grant opportunities are coming through under Countryside Stewardship. But also, prices have really improved for firewood.
“There is also a massive new interest in wood burners and wood chip fuel as well as the added value to shoots.
“We would love to see interest in this area grow because of the value to wildlife. Quite a number of woodland species have been shown to be declining and it’s probably because of under-managed woodland.”
Game management was one of the primary reasons for managing and opening up woodland, Mr Thompson noted.
“Farmers who manage their woodland and get a good coppice and shrub layer back will hold their pheasants so much better,” he said.
“You won’t lose them in November/December and January when it gets cold. A bit of food and warmth and they will stay.”
Deer management is a “real issue”, but managing woodland and opening up rides helps deer move around and enables you to be able to see them from high seats and therefore improve your chances of controlling numbers, he added.
“We’re not seeking to get rid of them (deer). But we need to keep the deer population to a sensible level for growing crops and wood.”
Well-managed and coppiced woodland also adds value to the farm estate, he said.
Mr Thompson urged farmers and landowners to think about their land and consider how they could make the most of it either by creating new woodland or managing existing wooded areas.
He said: “People should take a look at the new lot of grants coming out. They should ask themselves if they should apply, and if so, for which one?
“There are grants for managing existing woodland and planting new woodland. If you plant a new woodland and it’s only an acre, what do you put in it? What is the best area? What are the best trees? Should you have open space?
“You are allowed 10% open space when you are planting new woodland. Do it. Because when it all grows up and you planted it all with the same stuff and you haven’t got any shrubs in, 10 years on and you won’t have any wildlife in there at all.
“You go from open space, to small shrubs, to taller shrubs, to medium-sized trees to big trees. It’s all graded.”
Philip Eddell, a director at Savills, said: “Farmers and landowners are showing a greater interest in the environment and making sure habitats are maintained and looked after.
“Farmers need to be inclined to manage their woodland in the first place as the grants are only a contribution to the costs.
“From a sporting point of view, if you want to shoot, you have got to invest time and effort into managing woodland. It’s not just shooting that benefits (from managing woodland), just about every species does.”
For more information on woodland grants and how to apply, visit the Defra website