Grants could deliver a big pay day

Sam Booth of EGGER Forest Management.
Sam Booth of EGGER Forest Management.

A Dumfries forestry expert is urging local farmers and landowners to take advantage of new Government grants for planting commercial woodlands on poor quality grazing land.

Sam Booth, who is south west Scotland area manager for EGGER Forest Management said schemes to help combat climate change could deliver a big payday.

“Afforestation targets set out in the latest Land Use Strategy – with 10,000ha of new forestry planted annually – are a key part of meeting Scotland’s environmental objectives.

“But these are not mere political pipe dreams, they are backed by hard cash in the form of planting grants administered by the Forestry Commission – and which has confirmed that Brexit will not blow the Scottish Government off course in meeting its forestry strategy.

“New applications are welcomed and it is business as usual, with carbon sequestration provided by new trees still forming a key part of the Government’s action plan, he said.

EGGER is exhibiting at the Galloway Country Fair later this month and will be offering farmers and landowners free advice on the financial assistance available to them.

Mr Booth believes the support for commercial forestry announced recently by the NFUS and the National Sheep Association is causing farmers and landowners to think again about the benefits of integrating woodlands with sheep flocks.

Forestry is growing in stature in rural Scotland and farmers are realising that combining forestry and agriculture can make commercial sense. NFUS and the NAS both backed commercial forestry at an event at Lymiecleuch near Teviothead earlier this year.

“In recent years, the economics of forestry have improved dramatically – with timber prices rising on average by some 10% per annum in the last decade,” added Mr Booth.

“Demand for wood is high, and rising, with the UK being only about 20% self-sufficient in wood-derived products. Thanks to a modern UK-based processing industry that handles some 10 million tonnes of UK timber every year, farmers who plant now can be confident of good demand in the future.

“Not only can forest economics stack up in isolation, but when prudently located on a hill farm, it can produce significant farming benefits as well. These include shelter, improved access and rationalising of boundaries.

“Needless to say, the grant system can be a little complicated and no two sites are the same. However, there is a range of woodland creation options from low-density woodlands of native species with biodiversity objectives, to commercial spruce that will meet farmers’ more economic objectives.

“Grant rates are high and, for many schemes, the financial package will cover all of the costs. This means farmers won’t have the negative cashflow often associated with previous tree planting enterprises. And the icing on the cake is that the Basic Payment Scheme is retained after the trees get planted.

“Conifer woodlands established in the 1970s and ‘80s are now being felled and generating a tax-free profit to the owner of £10-20,000/ha. Only 10 hectares or so planted back then, on land that may have had little agricultural value, could now form a very useful boost to a farmer’s pension pot.”