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Countryside Stewardship: New Woodland Grants

On the 17th February 2015 DEFRA released the first wave of new countryside stewardship grants for the establishment of new woodland as funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development. From February the funding is available and is aimed at maintaining the momentum in the priority areas of woodland creation, establishing woodland management plans and addressing tree health issues. Applicants can select from a range of capital items in creating new woodland and also assistance in the cost of professional fees in drawing up woodland management plans.

Further countryside stewardship grants will open fully in July 2015 with additional capital items and options for existing woodland similar to the old Woodland Improvement grants. Further guidance on this is expected in the spring ahead of the scheme opening in July.

Applications for tree health and management plans can be submitted from the 17th February 2015 and must be received by the forestry commission by the 30th June 2015. A draft agreement will be issued within 11 weeks of the application date where there are no major issues to resolve. Woodland creation applications must submit by 30th April 2015 to allow time for a site visit to take place ahead of the final deadline of 31st May 2015. Woodland creation agreements will be issued to successful applicants from June 2015. The grants are available to land managers, landlords and tenants, where permitted under their tenancy agreement.

The payment rates will vary depending on the capital items included and the funding is purely a contribution towards the costs of carrying out the work. For woodland creation there is a limit of £6,800 per hectare for the planting and protection. The maintenance payment can be paid in addition subject to eligibility. If applying on the grounds of tree health restoration there are a number of limits applied per hectare for the planting and protection up to £3,500 dependant on the type of site. These agreements are one-off payments and will be paid in either 2015/2016 claim year or 2016/2017 depending on when the work is completed. There is an obligation to keep the capital items in place for five years from the date of payment.

Woodland Creation Grants will be given to applicants whose proposals have a positive impact on bio-diversity, water quality and climate change. Applicants working in partnership with other land owners on larger application areas will be prioritised. Applications for woodland creation will be reviewed against other applicants, however, applicants for management plans and tree health issues are not reviewed against other applications and will be paid subject to budget availability.

In order to apply it is important that you are registered with the Rural Payments Agency and that you have a Customer Registration Number for the new CAP Information Service. Applicants are being encouraged to contact their area Forestry Commission office to discuss the application and to seek preliminary advice and also to arrange a site visit. Woodland creation applicants must contact their area office by 30th April 2015. Applicants must then prepare a map to the Forestry Commission standard and complete and submit an application from. Woodland creation grants will be assessed on a scoring process reflecting the objectives of the Countryside Stewardship with extra points available for partnership working and the size of the application.

There are a number of capital items that can be claimed for which include fencing, sheep netting, rabbit fencing and deer fencing on a per metre basis. There are additional grants available for wooden gates, badger gates, water gates on a per item basis. In addition to these there are scrub and rhododendron controls and a woodland management plan contribution on a per hectare basis of woodland area. The capital grant also assists the costs to supply and plant a tree at £1.28 per tree in addition to £1.60 for a tree shelter. The woodland creation maintenance payment is £200 per hectare per year for ten years.

It is important to note that, prior to the release of this grant, the Forestry Commission had stated that the new woodland improvement grants would not be available to applicants that do not have an approved woodland management plan in place. Therefore, if you are considering future woodland improvement grants, you should seek to take advantage of the woodland management plan grant in order to ensure that you have the necessary paperwork in place to apply for the next round of improvement grants.

As a company we manage a number of estates with diverse forestry portfolios and can offer guidance and support during the application process. For further information please contact Will Parker at our Barnard Castle office on 01833 637000.

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