Changes To Woodland & SFI Schemes

Beth Speakman

Beth Speakman

Apr, 03 2024

On 18th March, the Forestry Commission (FC) announced an immediate increase in payments for England Woodland Creation Offer (EWCO) grant recipients, to be applied to all existing and new agreement holders.

The changes will allow an increase in maximum payments receivable per hectare, from £8,000, to £11,600, or £12,700 for those eligible for Low Sensitivity Land Payments. The FC also announced new Nature Recovery premium options, to encourage the promotion of natural colonisation and biodiversity within woodlands; uplifts in payments for flood risk mitigation and public access.

Furthermore, an extension to the availability of annual maintenance payments from 10 years to 15 years, with an additional £50/hectare/ year will increase payment rates by £750/ha across the 15-year payment terms.

The payment rises are unlikely to result in significant benefits to land landowners, unlike Defra’s 45% uplift figure suggests. However, they will help to cover establishment costs for those wishing to utilise grant funding to subsidise the costs of planting woodland. EWCO rules will remain the same, including:

  • Applicants must be registered with the Rural Payments Agency
  • Applications are open all year-round
  • Capital works funded under the scheme must be completed within 3 years from the commencement date to the end of capital funding date. Following this, applicants have three months to claim for payment.
  • Dead trees must be replaced to ensure the required stocking density is met by year five, to achieve canopy closure by year 20.

However, the biggest changes this month came via an announcement from Defra that immediate restrictions would be placed on new SFI agreements offered after midnight on 25th March 2024. Whilst existing agreements are expected to be exempt from this rule, this is yet to be confirmed. However updated guidance means future agreement holders cannot place more than 25% of land under their Single Business Identified into the following options:

  • Pollen & Nectar Flower Mixes
  • Winter Bird Food (on arable, horticultural and improved grassland)
  • Grassy Field Corners
  • Improved Grassland Field Corners
  • Flower-rich Grass Margins

Whilst the option requirements and payments rates will remain unchanged, Defra’s intention is to limit the large-scale removal of land out of food production and into SFI. These measures were introduced alongside a newly announced UK-wide Food Security Index, to monitor food security and environmental resilience.

For more information regarding the recent developments in woodland and SFI schemes, see our Ceres Rural Farming Update March 2024 and read this blog.

To speak to a member of our team about what rural grants could benefit your business, email, or contact a specific consultant – you can find details on the meet the team page of this website. You could even request for some FREE advice via Defra’s Future Farming Resilience Fund. You can do that by registering your interest here.

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