The Agricultural Transition Plan published on the 30th November is vital reading for foresters. It really is a revolution in terms of both land management incentives and to a lesser extent regulation. Headlines include reductions in direct farm payments and redirecting this money to environmental outcomes, retirement options for farmers and increased support for transition away from the status quo. Government and DEFRA are wedded to the idea of co-design to develop this framework published in the Plan. Strong engagement from the sector will help shape this in a positive way, but this is a big task over the next 4 years, with many pilots and tests and trials running to help shape the final, firmer offer starting in 2024.
This engagement work has been running for several years, and our Director Neville Elstone has been representing the Institute of Chartered Foresters on several working groups including the ELM’s Engagement Group (the lead over-arching group) and the ELM’s Advice Group. It now looks like we have a way into the Future Farming Countryside Programmes Co-design team, which will cover items such as capital grants, advice/guidance and business planning, which has control of around 10% of the overall budget and has the potential to shape future land management hugely. At the same time as this, Cumbria Woodlands have been feeding into the Environment Bill to help shape a legal target enshrined in the Bill for woodlands.
One key point is that the grants will be based on income foregone plus costs, as opposed to non-market value in the medium term. This is disappointing for forestry because we provide a range of services to society, yet receive nothing back from it. However, looking to the longer term we're optimistic that incentives will move in this direction.
The Agricultural Transition Plan throws lots into the air and it will cause many in the county real concern and hardship through the loss of the Basic Farm Payment. Woodland and forestry creation has to tread carefully, to ensure we get the right woodlands in the right places, and to help the land owning community be sustainable both financially and environmentally. It’s a challenge for all of us within the sector to ensure we can look back at our actions in twenty years and feel comfortable that we gave the right advice, information and did the right things from a position of knowledge and understanding.
Read the full Government Plan here.