NSA warns of risks to multi-functional farmland from blanket tree planting aims

30th June 2022

Following the statement from the Confederation of Forest Industries (Confor) last week, the National Sheep Association (NSA) is highlighting the need for recognising the value of the farmed landscape the UK already has, and the importance of the right tree in the right place.

The UK Government pledged in 2019 to reach 30,000 hectares (115 sq miles) of new planting by the end of 2024. According to Confor, targets have been drastically missed. Defra said in a statement it was currently on track to meet the target but acknowledged there was there was ‘more to do to stay on our ambitious trajectory’.

NSA Chief Executive, Phil Stocker says: “Blanket planting trees to tackle climate change could endanger some of our most iconic and multi-functional landscapes across the UK and decimate working rural communities and food production. As we have already seen across Wales, large-scale investment companies are actively buying farms across the country, raising countless concerns it could reduce our ability to produce sustainable food and negate the environmental benefits of a pastoral landscape. It would also damage local culture, language and heritage".

Interest in afforestation as a means to offset carbon footprint has grown among individuals and large companies, however NSA considers there to be inadequate research or appreciation of the benefits livestock and active farming have on the ecosystems and biodiversity in these areas. NSA believes companies are likely targeting grassland and upland areas as land values tend to be lower – even though these are areas already of immense appreciation and are often not the best conditions for successful tree growing.

Mr Stocker continues: “Considering other options to tackle the climate emergency is vital to ensure the UK’s food footprint is not just exported and that we have real influence and control on how our food is produced. But it should be highlighted that the tree planting targets set were done so before the benefits beyond food production that sensitively managed grasslands deliver were recognised. Since the targets were set the UK has experienced several damaging storms that have destroyed areas of woodland and forest whilst our grasslands have quietly gone about their business showing they are probably the most resilient way to contribute to feeding people while also storing carbon, protecting natural resources, providing for nature, and supporting health and well being among the public.

“The UK is well known as a largely pastoral landscape and it is what much of our wildlife and biodiversity is dependant on. In addition to their essential role in our farmed landscape sheep and cattle are also beneficial to many diverse habitats found in niche areas of ancient semi-natural woodland and coastal habitats. Appropriate stocking rates of grazing ruminants create and maintain habitats for invertebrates and vertebrates that depend on the ground flora and shrub layers of these areas, as well as providing pathways for mammals and birds, creating seedling establishment sites and reducing the spread of invasive weeds.”