The right tree in the right place is key to new Defra tree planting scheme, says NSA

27th January 2022

The National Sheep Association (NSA) is welcoming the gradual launching of new Defra schemes, most recently the new tree planting grants, targeting planting within farmed landscapes and offering the chance to sensitively integrate trees alongside livestock production.
The recently launched drive from Defra to encourage farmers and landowners across England to plant and manage more trees may well present opportunities for income, carbon storage, and nature. Done well trees can improve the environment for grazing sheep, providing shelter, shade, and even adding to sheep nutrition. NSA accepts increased tree cover can be achieved in Britain without compromising our national sheep flock.
NSA Chief Executive, Phil Stocker comments: “We recognise the many benefits trees can bring provided it’s the right tree in the right place, and we are of the opinion that trees can be incorporated sensitively without affecting productive sheep farming. At a time when farmers are trying to balance the loss of BPS with environmental payments, this kind of financial benefit is welcome.
“However, I would still say that too few people are recognising the true value of the country’s grasslands and I would like to see Defra talking more about the value of a more integrated countryside, where there is equal recognition of trees, grassland and cropping land for climate, nature and food security reasons. Well managed grassland has been shown to store as much soil carbon as trees, and much of our nature is reliant on grassland and grazing animals. For too long grass has been treated simply as an agricultural crop by policy makers while we know it has multiple outputs, and is highly resilient against fire, drought, flood, disease, and extreme weather events.
“There is a question mark in my mind around targeting large scale tree planting on grade three soils on the basis that it will not impact much on food production. These grassland areas should not be measured on food production alone – that would be like assessing the value of trees on no more than their timber production.”
NSA welcomes that the offer not only includes grant schemes for financial benefit but also access to free specialist advice. The different funding opportunities provided by Defra, the Forestry Commission and other woodland creation partnerships, support a selection of projects covering a range of types and sizes, from small scale planting, to beside watercourses, to natural colonisation and to larger mixed woodlands.
Mr Stocker continues: “Agroforestry and silvopasture are both approaches gaining interest, alternatively the recreation of ancient wood-pasture may be attractive for some livestock farmers and allows significant environmental benefits to be realised, while still allowing the land to be farmed. For less intensive upland and lowland sheep farms, this seems likely to be something that will fit well with future environmental schemes, and NSA welcomes the plans for farms to be able to transfer into new schemes as they are rolled out. Sheep farming is far more focussed on ‘land sharing’ where we both produce sheep and environmental benefits on the same land, rather than ‘land sparing’ where productivity and environmental features are separated, and the integration of more trees within the farmed landscape takes land sharing to another level.”
To get involved in the campaign go to Plant the future – Put down roots with woodland creation (