Welsh government waters down 10% tree cover requirement

Controversial plans to require all farms in Wales to allocate at least 10% of their land to trees have been included in final proposals for the Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS), prompting fresh warnings from Welsh unions that farmers will boycott the scheme.

But in an important amendment, the Welsh government is proposing that the 10% tree cover requirement – which will need to be met by 2030 – will not apply to unplantable areas on farms, such as roads, yards, hard standings, ponds and peatland.

Existing broad-leaf and coniferous woodland, scattered groups, and individual trees in fields and hedgerows (greater than 3m, so not the hedgerow itself) will be included in the 10% threshold. Orchard trees and trees within agroforestry systems are also included.

See also: NFU Cymru leaders threaten to shun Sustainable Farming Scheme

NFU Cymru said it was concerned that the minimum 10% tree cover scheme rule remains a part of the proposals given that farmers across Wales have stated that this stipulation is likely to prove a barrier to entry for many businesses.

Union president Aled Jones said the Welsh government’s SFS proposals to date have framed sustainable land management “through the lens of the environment alone”, but have failed to recognise its core role of producing “safe, nutritious and affordable food”.

The 10% tree cover requirement is included in a list of 17 universal actions which all farmers must complete to meet the obligations of the scheme and receive payments.

Other universal actions include: completing an annual self-assessment to optimise business and environmental performance, developing thicker hedgerows for wildlife, and active management of modified peatlands to protect soil carbon stocks.

Stability payment

The consultation proposes a universal baseline payment to all farmers in Wales for carrying out universal actions, but it does not detail payment rates.

The Welsh government says this “stability payment” is intended to support the move from the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) to the scheme, by providing “continuity of income”. The consultation proposes to phase out basic payments by 2029.

NFU Cymru welcomed plans for the stability payment, but said without the detail on payment rates it was impossible for farmers to make informed decisions for the future.

Mr Jones said the SFS proposals have been published against the backdrop of “significant budget uncertainty”, including a £37.5m cut to the Welsh government’s rural affairs budget in October and the Glastir “cliff edge” faced by thousands of farmers and the end of this year.

Therefore, the Welsh government must maintain the BPS to at least the current levels of £238m in 2024 and match its ambition for the SFS by increasing the annual budget to more than £500m.

Have your say

The Welsh government said the proposals for the SFS have been shaped by feedback from farmers and the wider industry over three consultations and two phases of co-design.

Changes in the scheme in response to this feedback include making the scheme accessible to all farmers in Wales from 2025.

Welsh government rural affairs minister Lesley Griffiths urged all farmers in Wales to have their say on the consultation.

But she stressed: “No final decision will be taken on the SFS until after this consultation has taken place and the responses considered.”

Have your say on the consultation here.

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