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A helping hand for farm woodland

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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.

Two very different farmers have transformed their farms and generated additional income by planting trees on unproductive areas – we catch up with them to find out more.

When it comes to planting trees – and securing grant funding to do so – getting free professional help and project management can make or break a scheme.

Michael Flesher knows that first-hand, as he wanted to plant trees 20 years ago at Ghyll House Farm, near Ilkley in West Yorkshire. But the red tape, cost and lack of advice put him off.

A fourth-generation sheep farmer, he wanted to diversify his income and help biodiversity. “I don’t want to plant trees on good farming land; that’s not for me,” he says. Instead, he chose banks and less productive areas of the farm.

Michael joined forces with his neighbour Jill to apply for a regional woodland creation grant and approached The White Rose Forest, his local community forest, for help.

“What was really helpful was their willingness to come out and walk the site, understand what we wanted to do and the topography of the land,” says Jill. “They did all of the mapping for us and came back with a plan.”

Michael Flesher speaking with the White Rose Forest team

© Photography: White Rose Forest

Defra has five Woodland Creation Partners across England providing grants that cover up to 100% of the tree planting cost and free support with planning, funding, design and regulatory approvals.

The White Rose Forest team’s help with the bigger picture – including design, paperwork, tree protection, planting and maintenance – was invaluable, says Michael. “It was key to the whole process.”

Michael now intermittently grazes his sheep on Jill’s woodland pastures, helping to keep the weeds down while improving soil organic matter – and he’s added a campsite to generate additional income.

“The White Rose Forest team have been brilliant – it’s just taken the weight off my back.”

Birkholme Manor in Lincolnshire is a very different kind of farm; 453ha of agricultural land around a fine country house and gardens, and on which the family have planted trees since 1923.

In 1976, Vincent Hedley-Lewis inherited from his father, and wanted to continue to enhance the value of the estate and maximise profitability.

Since then, Vincent has planted 21ha of woodland on unprofitable grade four land, bringing the total area to 40ha.

Then in January 2023, funded by a grant from the England Woodland Creation Offer (EWCO), he added another three plots, totalling 3ha, named after his three daughters.

New planted trees on Vincent Hedley's farm

© Photography: Vincent Hedley-Lewis

EWCO is a national grant scheme which covers standard capital costs up to £10,200/ha, plus stackable payments of up to £8,000/ha for projects that support wider benefits to society, nature recovery, and the environment. 

“We received incredible advice and support from the Forestry Commission, and the grant helped with protecting the woodland from deer, an important consideration around here,” says Vincent.

By connecting up existing habitats he is providing additional shelterbelts and wildlife corridors, which also benefit the estate’s shoot.

“The farm’s annual bird counts are showing increased numbers every year and we’ve seen grey partridge for the first time in years,” he says.

The woodland currently generates income from thinning and shooting, and Vincent has registered with the Woodland Carbon Code so he can sell or offset carbon units against the farming activities.

“Planting and managing woodland can benefit wildlife, improve your shoot, make you money from carbon, provide a legacy, and enhance the value of your land, while making it a really attractive place to live.”

Like Michael, Jill and Vincent, you are not alone when embarking upon your tree planting journey.

Go to Put Down Roots – Woodland creation to find out more.