Defra to offer farmers tree health grants in pilot scheme

The government is developing plans for a new tree health scheme, which will provide grants to help farmers in England deal with tree pests and diseases.

The new scheme – which will be launched in pilot form at the end of August – will eventually replace the existing Countryside Stewardship Woodland Health Grants, but is expected to cover a broader range of tree species and threats.

Research suggests farmers are worried about the effect of tree pests and diseases, with Farmers Weekly readers identifying it as the most significant threat to the UK landscape in a survey carried out last year.

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Full details of the pilot are yet to be confirmed, but according to the agricultural transition plan published last year, a significant difference is that the new scheme may include hedgerows, roadside trees and trees in parks and parklands.

This would be particularly helpful for any farmers with trees infected by ash dieback which are close to public roads and footpaths, as these need to be managed for health and safety reasons.

Landowners have pointed out that such work can prove expensive because of the need to implement temporary road closures or traffic restrictions.

Pilot scheme eligibility

The government has said it wants to implement 100 agreements with land managers as part of the pilot scheme.

Applicants will need to have an eligible tree pest or disease confirmed on their land by the Forestry Commission, which will run the scheme.

Initially, it will be targeting woodland owners and land managers in London, the South East, the North West and West Midlands.

The pilot will work alongside the existing Countryside Stewardship Woodland Tree Health grants, which will continue to be on offer until 2024, when the new tree health scheme will be rolled out in full.

As the pilot will trial new elements of the future scheme only, payments made as part of the tree health pilot will be different to payments made as part of the existing Countryside Stewardship grants.

Defra has warned that if a farmer is eligible for a Countryside Stewardship tree health grant, they are unlikely to be eligible for the tree health pilot.