More than 3,000ha of new woodland is set to be planted along England’s riverbanks as part of a government project to help manage flood risks and increase biodiversity.
The Woodlands for Water project aims to create 3,150ha of trees in six river catchment areas, from Devon to Cumbria, by March 2025.
Farmers and landowners will be able to apply for funding to create these woodlands through the England Woodland Creation Grant, which provides incentives to plant and manage trees, including along rivers and watercourses.
Defra launched the scheme, which is being supported by environmental groups, including the Rivers Trust, the National Trust, the Woodland Trust and the Beaver Trust.
The hope is that planting trees on and around riverbanks will improve water quality by blocking the runoff of pollutants into rivers, manage flood risk by slowing the flow of water, and boost biodiversity by creating new habitat corridors.
“This is a hugely exciting and untapped area for woodland creation,” said forestry minister Lord Goldsmith.
“The benefits of planting trees by rivers are vast – from helping biodiversity recover by creating more natural riverbanks to slowing the flow of surface water to reduce the risk of flooding; and improving water quality by buffering rivers from harmful agricultural pollution.”
He added that the government was committed to treble tree planting rates by the end of this parliament to help tackle climate change.
Commenting on the scheme, Harry Bowell, director of land and nature at the National Trust, said: “With 90% of UK floodplains not fit for purpose, creating flood issues for communities, we fully recognise the value of trees to our river corridors in helping to slow floodwaters, soak up carbon and keep rivers cool in the face of rising temperatures.
“This work will enhance the projects we already have under way, where our primary focus has been the conservation and health of the river channel itself. This partnership and funding will allow us to look at the wider river corridor to further enhance this work.”
Landowners’ organisation the Country, Land and Business Association (CLA) welcomed the announcement.
“It will enable private landowners to work alongside institutional landowners to plant more trees in the six river catchments which, if planted in the right place, will help reduce water pollution, address flood risk and boost nature recovery,” said CLA president Mark Bridgeman.
“It’s definitely worth private landowners making the most of the grants through the England Woodland Creation Offer, as they cover the costs of planting, provide flexibility on what you can plant and where, and there are financial incentives for delivering public benefits.
“It’s schemes like this that are key to achieving biodiversity recovery.”