Green light for more small-scale woodlands

While Scotland has been leading the way in the tree-planting stakes, there has been increasing criticism in recent years of the support given for widespread blanket afforestation.

Scottish Government’s environment minister Mairi McAllan (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)
Scottish Government’s environment minister Mairi McAllan (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)

Farming and environmental organisations have both claimed the unrestricted planting of large-scale commercial forestry can lead to substantial losses in terms of biodiversity, social infrastructure and agricultural productivity.

But a new project has been set up to extend tree planting beyond the confines of large-scale landowners by encouraging the planting of more small-scale woodlands which could be integrated into agricultural units. And, in a bid to ensure all sectors have access to government incentives available for tree planting, the initiative focuses on how tenant farmers – who are often prohibited from turning farmland over to woodlands – can benefit.

Scottish Forestry has announced a collaboration with the Scottish Tenant Farmers Association which aims to encourage more tenancy-based businesses to consider growing trees by outlining how such an approach could work in practice.

Stating that around 80 per cent of forestry grant applications were already for smaller projects, the Scottish Government’s environment minister, Màiri McAllan, said that this needed to be built upon to ensure all farmers, including tenant farmers, would be able to grow trees to boost their businesses. “Farm woodlands can bring many benefits, including shelter for livestock, improved habitats for wildlife, providing a future income from timber and reducing the business’s carbon footprint,” she said.

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Scotland leading the way with ambitious woodland creation targets

And to this end a case study centred on an 800-acre Crown Estate farm in the Highlands is being used.

Already involved in tree planting, Ruthven Farm has seen the benefits of planting trees on the farm, providing shelter and habitat for their flock as well as fencing grants, leading to better management of stock and improved biosecurity barriers with neighbouring farms.

The mixed woodland on the farm was planted in wetter, less productive areas such as corners of fields which had fluke habitats with the aim of drying these areas out. “This case study on Ruthven Farm provides valuable examples of the types of woodland creation possible on a tenanted holding, from small-scale farm woodlands to large-scale commercial conifers,” said STFA chairman Christopher Nicholson.

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“The benefits to the farm of integrating appropriate tree planting with agriculture are clearly analysed in the study, including income arising from the Woodland Carbon Code.

Nicholson said the STFA would like to see tree planting options to be made available to all tenants should they wish to integrate trees on their holdings.

“Despite existing restrictions around agricultural leases which may need to be addressed, it is vital that farm tenants can contribute to biodiversity and mitigation of climate change,” he said, adding that the STFA would like other landlords to adopt a similar approach, with tenants seeking to diversify into trees.

Scottish Forestry said the initiative added to existing measures to attract smaller landowners, farmers and crofters to grow trees, including a Small Woodlands Loan Scheme and a network of demo farm woodlands sites.

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