A new multi-million grant scheme has opened to pay landowners to create woodlands to help wildlife recover, cut flood risk and increase public access to nature.
Funding will be available for natural creation of woods through letting trees self seed and grow and tree planting near rivers to improve habitats – which conservationists have said could help support the return of beavers.
The England Woodland Creation Offer (EWCO) from the Forestry Commission has £15.9 million available in its first year.
It aims to support the creation of a range of woodland types and sizes to help store carbon and tackle climate change, with extra money for woods that provide wider benefits for people and the environment.
The new scheme, which officials said was a significant improvement on previous grants, can cover 100% of the costs for farmers and landowners of buying and planting trees and maintaining woods for 10 years.
Additional support will be paid for the creation of native woods that will help key species recover, planting native broadleaved woodlands along watercourses and rivers, and where trees could reduce the risk of flooding.
There is also extra funding for woodlands that provides long-term permissive access to the public to enjoy them, those that provide benefits because they are close to where people live, and woods that help improve water quality.
A significant majority of the new planting is expected to be native woodlands, continuing the trend seen in recent years in England, and rates of conifers and broadleaf trees will be monitored with the programme reviewed to maintain the trend if necessary, officials said.
But it will also support well-designed majority conifer and mixed woodlands to allow for productive forestry alongside significant increases in largely broadleaf woods.
Farmers will also be able to make the most of funding opportunities, potentially eligible to keep claiming farming payments for their land and to sell carbon credits to private buyers in the future.
Environment Secretary, George Eustice said: “Our ambition is not just to treble tree planting rates by the end of Parliament but to create diverse treescapes across the country which benefit wildlife, the environment and people.
“This grant, backed by £15.9 million in its first year, provides an exciting range of options for farmers and landowners so they can plant and manage trees in a way that meets their individual needs and ambition.
“From planting trees along rivers to reduce flood risk and improve water quality, to creating habitat for woodland dependent species, and improving public access – this grant will help deliver the woodlands of the future.”
Forestry Commission chairman, Sir William Worsley, said the scheme allowed landowners to create woodland from ranging from a small one hectare block or a strip of trees along rivers to reduce flood risk to large mixed woodlands.
“This improved grant gives everyone the opportunity to see woodland creation as a financially and environmentally rewarding option. This will help with our journey to reach net zero by 2050,” he said.
Andrew Allen, the Woodland Trust’s lead policy advocate for land use, said: “We need more trees and woods creating habitats for nature, soaking up carbon, combating flooding and much else.
“The England Woodland Creation Offer will mean for the first time there’s funding for new woodland that combines these benefits.
“Now the Government needs to set out how it will ensure the new money delivers high quality, biodiversity-friendly native woodland.
“The Woodland Trust will be watching closely to make sure the funding delivers all the benefits we need such as the right trees in the right places.”
Mark Bridgeman, president of the Country Land & Business Association (CLA), said: “Payments for woodland creation under the EWCO are significantly better than previous schemes and the minimum application area has been reduced to one hectare, which should increase interest in tree planting.
“Higher standard payments, with optional supplements for biodiversity, flood mitigation or access provision, makes woodland creation under the EWCO a more attractive option than before.
“It is well worth landowners looking into whether this new scheme can work for them.”