The Woodland Grant Scheme continues to change as we head towards changes under the new CAP reforms. The main changes recently announced by the Forestry Commission are:
• Biodiversity Woodland Improvement Grant (WIG) is now closed
• Woodfuel WIGs will close in September. In practice you need to be in queue by now if you are to be successful.
• No new planting schemes are being considered for this year. The Commission have reached target for 2000 hectares of new planting. However, longer term targets require the rate of new planting to rise to 5000 hectares a year, and so far there remains no sign of additional funding for this. The Government is looking to the private sector to pick up the challenge….
• A new Plant Health Woodland Improvement Grant has been announced, to contribute towards costs of dealing with Phytophthora ramorum (affecting Larch) and Ash Dieback Disease. The grants can include support for:
i. Rhododendron clearance within 3km of Phytophthora infection, £1500 – £6000 per hectare
ii. Removal of immature larch (£800-£1,000 per hectare)
iii. Professional support for help with planning felling and marketing of infected timber (£1,000)
Announcements about the new schemes coming in from next year are continuing to trickle out. The intention is to bring existing schemes closer together, with the biggest change for woodlands being the merger of the existing Environmental Stewardship Scheme, which provides grants to farmers for conservation work, with the English Woodland Grant Scheme.
They will be replaced by the New Environmental Land Management Scheme (NELMS) to be run by Natural England. Forestry Commission woodland officers will be available to advise, but it is not yet clear whether they will be available for site visits. Some administration staff will transfer to the Rural Payments Agency. The changes are helpful for a farmer with one point of contact, but for a woodland owner the set up will be rather more complicated, with the grant scheme having input from three organisations (Natural England, the Forestry Commission and the Rural Payments Agency), when in years gone by it was only the Forestry Commission. First thoughts are that the new scheme will be good for conservation, but may make productive forestry more difficult.
The NELMS scheme will offer:
• site specific agreements similar to the current Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) scheme
• area specific agreements aimed at targeted improvements in the wider countryside
• multi-annual agreements, normally for 5 years – but these could be longer if benefits take longer to achieve
• a choice of management options, capital items and advisory support (depending on the agreement type)
• annual small-scale grants for certain activities – such as hedgerow laying, coppicing and gapping up, or stone wall restoration
The main scheme will start on 1 January 2016; however, payments for some woodland capital items will be available during 2015.
A much smaller strand of grants, aimed at promoting business development will also continue. The Farm and Forestry Improvement Scheme (FFIS) had previously enabled some forestry businesses and woodland owners to invest in new machinery. The scheme supported efficiency improvements and the development of new markets.
More updates will follow as details are announced.