Defra published the first details about the new grant scheme for woodlands last week. This will now be known as Countryside Stewardship, having been referred to referred to as New Environmental Stewardship Scheme (or NELMS) in earlier consultations. It seeks to combine the previous Environmental Stewardship and Woodland Grant Schemes. A bit more information was gleaned from the Forestry Commission at a Cornwall Woodmeet meeting, but many things remain unclear. More details should come forward in February next year.
• All current Woodland Grant Schemes must have contracts signed by the end of the year, or they will lapse.
• To keep within restricted budgets there will be much more targeting of grant aid, both in local geographic terms and towards biodiversity targets.
• A range of standard costs have been published, which will be used as the basis for decided levels of grant support. This is very similar to the previous Environmental Stewardship Scheme (and indeed the Countryside Stewardship Scheme that ran from 1991 to 2004!)
• Natural England will take the lead on all mixed agricultural and woodland schemes; the Forestry Commission will lead on woodland only applications.
• Awarding of the funds will be on a competitive basis, with Natural England and the Forestry Commission scoring applications against pu8blished priorities and targets.
• There will be again be a grant towards the cost of writing woodland management plans, although it is not clear whether the current minimum grant of £1,000 will apply.
Details of this should be available in November.
• No grants will be available towards replanting felled woodland.
The official details are available in two booklets available from the following link. Grants for management plans and plant health issues should be available from February, but other strands of grant aid will take longer to finalise, with the main scheme opening to applications in July, and grants awarded for works from 2016.
Overall conservation management of woodlands may come out of the shake up quite well, or largely unaffected. But grant aid for more commercial woodlands will be in short supply. While that may not worry some, Wildlife Woodlands is committed to active and sustainable management of our whole woodland resource. We still import too much of our timber requirement and 47% of English woodlands are either under-managed or not managed at all. Government policy remains fine, but will they give us the tools to deliver it, otherwise it will remain fine words and aspirations only?
To be hopefully updated in February!