Business Clinic: Is there any grant aid for planting trees?

Whether you have a legal, tax, insurance, management or land issue, Farmers Weekly’s Business Clinic experts can help.

Here, Oliver Thompson, forestry consultant at Savills, advises on planting grants.

Q: I am thinking of planting trees on some areas of more marginal land on my farm in Devon. Are there any grants to help with the costs and if so, how do I go about making an application?

A: Planting trees on more marginal areas is worth looking into and yes, there is government support available, in the form of the Countryside Stewardship Woodland Creation Grant (WCG). Subject to various criteria being met, this offers up to £6,800/ha.

This previously had a relatively short application window but is now open all year round.

Before applying you need to work out exactly where you plan to plant the trees and makes sure the total area is at least 3ha. This can be split into smaller blocks of no less than 0.5ha.

There has to be a sound business case for planting the trees that complies with the UK Forestry Standard, for example this might be enhancing biodiversity and/or including water quality.

See also: Business Clinic – How can I recruit good farm staff?

Other points to consider are soil type and its suitability for the types of tree you plan to plant; the aspect of the land; and its height alongside the species of trees, which must be predominantly native, although up to 20% non-native conifers is allowed.

Once you are clear your proposal complies with the standard, the next step is to make sure the land is registered on the Rural Payments Agency’s rural land registry.

You are then in a position to apply online to Natural England, via the website.

When your application has been processed, the Forestry Commission will arrange a site visit to check your application and amend any finer details on the ground.

There will also be a consultation period with local relevant stakeholders, covering aspects including archaeology, wildlife and conservation and planning to ensure the planting will have no adverse effects on the landscape above or below ground.

Once the application is approved, you have two planting seasons to complete the planting and put in your grant claim. This must be supported with evidence such as photographs and relevant receipts. The RPA generally pays WCG claims within two to three months of submission.

The maximum grant of £6,800/ha includes tree protection and fencing and should cover between 60% and 75% of the total cost, assuming 100% native trees planted on to former pasture land using your own labour, rather than contractors.

There is also a 10-year maintenance grant, which you will be offered once the planting is complete, providing an additional £200/ha a year.

Again, you will need to provide evidence of the ongoing maintenance, which can take the form of site notes and photography showing adequate weeding has taken place, as well as the replacement of dead trees.