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Financial incentives for new woodlands increase by 45% in tree-planting drive

Financial incentives to create new woodlands will increase by 45% in a bid to boost tree planting, the Government has announced.

Farmers and land managers will be able to get up to £11,600 per hectare for woodlands they create – up from the maximum rate per hectare of £8,000 – under the England woodland creation offer (EWCO).

The Environment Department (Defra) and the Forestry Commission announced the uplift on Monday with the increased payments taking effect immediately.

The scheme, which was first launched in May 2021, provides financial incentives to plant trees to deliver positive impacts such as restoring nature and flood management risks.

It comes as part of Government plans to reforest the UK by planting 30,000 hectares of new woodland annually by the end of the current parliament and meet the statutory target of 16.5% tree and woodland cover by 2050.

According to the Forestry Commission, Government funding supported the planting of 2,721 hectares in the financial year 2022-23, corresponding to about 3.6 million trees with the woodland creation offer supporting 871 hectares – about 1.3 times the size of Gatwick Airport.

But last year, campaigners told the Guardian that too many rules, like new woodland areas needing to be within 75 metres of established woods and hedgerows as a source of seeds, had hindered uptake of the EWCO.

The publication reported that just 192 hectares of “natural colonisation” – woods created on land where there had recently been none – had been established in England through the EWCO in the two years from its launch in 2021.

The Government said on Monday that the new EWCO uplift will provide farmers and land managers with more tailored tree-planting incentives to encourage new woodland creation where it is best suited.

It added that there is a “strong pipeline” of EWCO applications for the 2024-25 financial year.

Farmers will also be able to get up to £12,700 in stackable payments if the land is eligible for the new low sensitivity land payment, which aims to encourage farmers to avoid reforesting land most suitable for food production.

Defra said farmers and land managers will be able to get more money for additional benefits delivered by their new woodlands as well.

This includes a new nature recovery premium of £3,300 per hectare to encourage the planting or natural colonisation of highly biodiverse woodlands next to ancient woodland.

For woodlands that deliver food risk management, they can now receive £1,000 – up from £500 a hectare – and for those that provide recreational access, they can receive £3,700 – up from £2,200.

The annual maintenance payments have been raised from £350 to £400 per hectare per year for 15 years as well.

Richard Stanford, Forestry Commission chief executive, said: “There has never been a better time for farmers and land managers to plant and grow more trees, and today’s announcements make it clear that woodland creation is a compelling part of the business of land management.

“In addition to encouraging woodland creation away from most productive land, it is important to remember that trees and woodlands can support farming objectives – for instance providing shade and shelter, improving productivity through healthy soil and water, reducing erosion and nutrient loss from surface run-off, or improving drought and flood resilience.”

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said: “We have made our commitment to farmers and land managers taking part in the England Woodland Creation Offer clear – we will support you, invest in you and reward your action in helping to meet our ambitious targets for the environment and the climate.

“Today’s uplift to rates is the latest step.

“Food security is a government priority, and we will continue to support our farmers and land managers to improve and conserve the natural environment and plant more trees, whilst making sure our best agricultural land is kept for food production.”

The payment uplift comes after the Government announced a new fast-track system for the woodland creation offer, which will see the Forestry Commission process applications with at least 90% of land located on areas least suitable for food production within 12 weeks.