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Farming and tree planting – it’s a ‘win-win’ says Devon farmer

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Farmers and landowners in England can plant trees through the England Woodland Creation Offer (EWCO) which encourages investment in the creation and long-term management of woodland. So what does it involve? 

Provided by Defra and the Forestry Commission.

Planting trees alongside food production provides additional income, improves soil and livestock health and stores carbon.

You don’t have to take agricultural land out of food production to benefit from planting trees on your land.

Producing food can go hand in hand with planting trees, ensuring that you can benefit from both at the same time.

Andy Gray, who farms at Elston Farm, Devon, began planting trees in March 2021 to see how they might benefit his soil and livestock.

A commercial beef farmer with 67ha, he supplies meat for the catering industry, and has adopted regenerative farming practices to try and improve soil health and productivity.

Andy Gray

Andy Gray @Elston Farm

He has planted a mixture of trees in rows, so that he can easily access the land with machinery, and grazes the livestock around them.

Planted in this way, the trees provide shelter and natural forage for livestock while boosting farm diversity and soil health.

“The larger trees are guarded by young hawthorns, which will form natural buffers to help stop livestock rubbing and stripping the bark,” he explains.

“Shrubbier varieties like spindle, holly, elder and elm will provide browsing for the animals as well as dense habitat for wildlife.”

In addition, the planting of walnut, chestnut, and apple trees has the potential to generate and enhance other income streams for the farm.

In total, Andy has planted 8,500 trees – and firmly believes it will bring a multitude of productivity benefits while aligning with his regenerative farming practices.

It also fits in with his business model – as chairman of McKelly, he supplies meat to hotels and restaurants across the South West and to the public via The Farm Wilder and The Meat Box Company.

And consumers are increasingly interested in natural, environmentally-friendly farming practices that can help the industry to reach net zero.

Planted tress at Elston Farm

@Elston Farm

“Grazed grassland and selected trees can work together in harmony,” he says.

“The trees will become the backbone of the farm and at the same time capture carbon, enhance biodiversity and enrich soil health.”

If, like Andy, you’re interested in integrating trees and farming you can access advice and support to help towards the cost of tree planting and management through Defra’s woodland creation grants.

The England Woodland Creation Offer is a national flagship grant scheme administered by the Forestry Commission.

With expert support from Woodland Creation Officers, it encourages the creation and long-term management of woodland on areas as small as one hectare.

The grant covers standard capital costs up to £10,200/ha, with stackable payments of up to £8,000/ha for projects that support wider benefits to society, nature recovery, and the environment.

Some grants provide additional payments for public benefits like flood risk management, improved water quality, and public access.

“Trees offer such a wide range of benefits to farmers – they boost biodiversity and provide shelter and grazing for livestock, and help with natural flood management and improved water quality,” says Keith Jones, Area Director at the Forestry Commission.

“They also improve soil health, which reduces nutrient losses and ensures more resilient, sustainable crop or grass production. Alongside this, they can generate new income streams from fruit, nuts, timber, improve farm carbon budgets and the carbon stored in the trees can be traded. Trees can also contribute to commercial recreational activities, carbon trading or leisure use – it’s a win-win-win.”

Alternatively, there are regional grants available through Woodland Creation Partners who also offer expert support and site visits.

Paul Nolan, chair of England’s Community Forests, says: “Our flexible funding will cover 100% of project costs and your local woodland creation adviser can help you make the right choices for your land, business and the environment, now and for years to come.”

Both the England Woodland Creation Offer and Woodland Creation Partners provide expert support and advice. Armed with local knowledge and expertise, they can advise on application processes, woodland design, tree selection, planting and maintenance.

Anyone with management control over eligible land can apply for a tree planting grant – including tenant farmers with their landlord’s approval. And it doesn’t need to take up much land – many of the schemes start from as little as 0.1ha.

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