At this time of year, woodland is enjoyed by thousands of people, marvelling at the autumn colours brought about by the changing of the seasons. And yet woodland has often been viewed as the poor relation of agricultural land when it comes to rural estate and farm management. But that could be about to change if the full potential of trees can be realised.

As we all know by now, once we leave the EU, future farm support payments are going to be based on the concept of “public money for public goods” with the area-based Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) being phased out by 2027.

“Woodlands deliver public goods in spades,” an impassioned Dougal Driver told the audience at an event I attended last month hosted by forestry consultant Lockhart Garratt to launch Grown in Britain Week.

Dougal is Chief Executive of Grown in Britain, an independent not-for-profit organisation that supports woods and forests and assures the products they produce through a unique licensing scheme. He lamented that probably half of British woodland was under managed.

As a result, the UK is the world’s second largest importer of timber after China and imports 90% of the charcoal used for our summer BBQs, much of it derived from unsustainable sources in developing countries. 

“We rarely add value to our timber, we just import it. I was at a country show and there was a stand selling logs all the way from South Africa,” he said. 

Peter Clifford, a colleague from our Bristol Rural Asset Management team, attended the recent CAAV Woodland Conference and said similar themes ran through the day.

“Woodland today has a high economic value that landowners don’t seem to be aware of; woodland has a high natural capital value that will be an important part of future farm support, and more woodland will be planted on marginal land due to the loss of the basic payment scheme.”

Speaking at the conference, Miranda Winram of Forest Enterprise England emphasised the future potential value of woodland when she said that the value of English woodland was estimated to be worth £23bn using natural capital accounting, compared with a balance sheet value of just £2bn.

Even Chancellor Philip Hammond is recognising the value of trees. In his recent Budget he pledged an extra £60m for tree planting across England over the next 10 years. Of that, £50m will pay landowners for planting trees that lock up carbon, with the balance spent in cities and towns.

The loss of Basic Payment Scheme will inevitably put pressure on the bottom line of many rural businesses, but making better use of their trees, both as traditional timber and, increasingly, as an ecosystem service offering value to society via carbon capture, flood protection, bio-diversity and social wellbeing and leisure, could be an important way to mitigate some of the pain.

For more information on how your trees could work harder for you and the grants available, please contact our Rural Asset Management team.

Contact the Rural Team