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Broadleaved Woodland

Volume 177: debated on Monday 23 July 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he is in a position to announce the outcome of the review of the Government's present policy for broadleaved woodland.

The Government's policy for broadleaved woodland was announced on 24 July 1985 in a statement to the House by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) at columns 557–62. The main objective of the policy was described in the statement as being

"to maintain and enhance the value of Britain's broadleaved woodland for timber production, landscape, recreation and nature conservation".
The statement also listed a number of complementary aims which would involve the planting of more broadleaved trees and the better management of broadleaved woodlands to serve a range of needs.Several new measures designed to achieve the policy aims were introduced or foreshadowed by the 1985 statement, such as the preparation of Forestry Commission guidelines on the management appropriate to various types of broadleaved woodland; a substantial reduction in the volume of timber—both broadleaved and conifer—that could be felled without a licence, directed mainly at arresting the depletion of ancient woodlands; and the introduction of a broadleaved woodland grant scheme designed to assist in the rehabilitation of neglected woodland and to encourage the creation of new multi-purpose broadleaved woods. The main features of the broadleaved woodland grant scheme were incorporated in the woodland grant scheme following our decision to remove forestry from the scope of income tax and corporation tax in 1988.In the 1985 announcement we stated that the operation and effectiveness of the new measures would be reviewed after some three years. That review was put in hand in October 1988. As a first stage, information was assembled by the Forestry Commission on the progress achieved against the aims and measures set out in 1985 and presented in a report entitled "Broadleaved Policy—Progress 1985–1988". Copies of the report were sent to more than 600 individuals and organisations for comment. A great many helpful and constructive replies were received by the summer of 1989, and the Forestry Commission then held bilateral discussions with the Nature Conservancy Council, the Countryside Commissions, Timber Growers United Kingdom, the Country Landowners Association, the Institute of Chartered Foresters, the National Farmers Union and Wildlife Link. We are also indebted to the Agriculture Committee of this House for the observations it made on this topic in its report issued earlier this year "Land Use and Forestry"—HC 16–1.What became immediately clear from the review was the very considerable success that the policy has had in extending the area of broadleaves throughout the country. In 1984–85, some 9 per cent. of grant-aided planting by private owners was with broadleaves; by 1988–89 this had risen to around 17 per cent. The policy has also been successful in arresting the loss of broadleaved woodland and in focusing attention on the irreplaceable contribution that the semi-natural woodlands make to our environment.A number of bodies saw a need for further increases in the broadleaved planting grants. The Government have considered the case for this with care, but, against the background of the considerable expansion in broadleaved planting that has taken place since 1985 and the substantial rise in grant rates which occurred with the introduction of the woodland grant scheme in 1988, we have concluded that there is no evidence that the grants on offer have been inadequate. The Government will, however, keep the rates of grant under review.The most important single issue to emerge from the broadleaves policy review, however, and one which was shared by the broad spectrum of forestry and environmental interests consulted, relates to the need to encourage good multi-purpose management of the various types of broadleaved woodland. Concern over this issue has been highlighted by the decision taken in the 1988 Budget to remove tax reliefs on woodland management expenditure, although transitional provisions were introduced for these reliefs to continue for existing woodland owners until April 1993.The comments received on this issue have related not only to the costs of managing broadleaved woodlands over the very long period between establishment and the first returns from the sale of timber, and of bringing neglected woodlands back into production, but to the lack of the necessary incentives to encourage owners to adopt practices that would have environmental benefit over and above normal maintenance work. Particular concern has been expressed by a number of bodies that owners are not receiving the special help required to enable them to meet the more exacting multi-purpose objectives and the associated higher costs of managing ancient semi-natural woodlands.The Government accepts that more needs to be done to ensure the better management of our broadleaved woodlands in the future, to encourage owners to bring neglected woodlands into a healthy and productive state, and to provide owners with the necessary incentives to maintain and improve the environmental value of their woodlands. We have therefore decided to make woodland management grants available under the Forestry Commission's woodland grant scheme. In the light of the changes to the forestry tax arrangements and the considerable scope which exists to improve the environmental value of all types of woodland, we have further decided that woodland management grants will be made available for conifer as well as broadleaved and mixed woodlands.To qualify for the new grants, woodland owners will be required to agree to a five-year plan of operations with the Forestry Commission which will set out the management objectives for the woodland and prescribe operations which will advance those objectives during the period of the plan. The grants will be paid annually in arrears subject to satisfactory implementation of the plan. A lump sum payment of £100 will also be available from the Forestry Commission for owners who draw up management plans for the first time with the benefit of professional advice for areas eligible for the woodland management grants. This assistance will not be available, however, for planting plans.There will be two types of woodland management grant:—

  • (a) standard management grants, which will be payable during the normal maintenance period following the initial establishment phase of the woodland—for conifer woodlands between 11 and 20 years of age and for broadleaved woodlands between 11 and 40 years. In return for these grants owners will be obliged not only to carry out normal silvicultural operations to a high standard but also to take such steps as may be agreed between them and the Forestry Commission to increase the environmental value of the woodlands;
  • (b) special management grants, which will be payable for woodlands of special environmental value of any age above 10 years. In return for these grants, the owner will be required to agree to take specified action which will maintain and enhance the woodland's special character. Woodlands in this category will be those which in the Forestry Commission's view are of special value for nature conservation, landscape, public recreation or a combination of these by virtue of their nature, location or use. There will be a presumption that conifer and broadleaved woodlands properly classified as ancient and semi-natural on the inventory being drawn up by the Nature Conservancy Council will qualify, as will those of special landscape value in national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and national scenic areas or which are covered by woodland tree preservation orders, but each case will, of course, have to be considered on its merits. Any woodland, whether or not in a nationally designated area, may qualify if the owner has proposals to establish, develop or improve free facilities for public access or for public recreation in the woodland, provided the proposals are in keeping with public demand for such facilities and are accepted by the Forestry Commission. Owners in receipt of this special management grant will not be eligible to claim the standard management grant in respect of the same area.
  • A supplementary grant will be paid for woodlands of less than 10 hectares in either of the above categories in recognition of the higher management costs involved.

    Woodlands which are currently in receipt of grants from other public bodies will not be eligible for the woodland management grant, except for those established under the farm woodland scheme. The annual payments to farmers under that scheme are compensation for agricultural income forgone, and are not provided for the purpose of defraying maintenance expenditure.

    The rates of woodland management grant and their periods of eligibility are given in the following table.

    Subject to clearance by the European Commission under the terms of article 93 of the treaty of Rome, this significant extension to the woodland grant scheme will come into operation on 1 April 1992, with the first grants being paid in 1993–94. It is estimated that the annual cost of the new grants will be of the order of £5 million once the system has built up; this will be found by the Forestry Commission from within existing resources.

    The commission will be issuing detailed guidance on the management grants early next year, to enable woodland owners to put the preparation of management plans in hand. Some woodland owners are able to claim tax relief on the cost of managing their woodlands under the transitional taxation arrangements that will continue until April 1993, but tax relief for 1992–93 will not be available on woodlands for which management grants are received for that year.

    Turning to other features of the review, it is clear that the guidelines for the management of broadleaved woodland prepared by the Forestry Commission in 1985 have generally served their purpose well. It was advanced, however, by a significant number of commentators that the guidelines were not being interpreted by all the parties concerned with sufficient sensitivity to regional or local variations. The Government are clear that the guidelines must not be treated as hard and fast rules, but should be interpreted flexibly enough to enable appropriate local and regional factors which affect woodland management to be taken into account. We have asked the Forestry Commission to ensure that this is done.

    Under the present provisions of the woodland grant scheme, planting grants are paid for the initial establishment of new coppice stools but only on the basis of traditional coppice rotations. We have decided that this is unnecessarily restrictive and the Forestry Commission will be introducing an amendment to the scheme so that the establishment of short rotation coppice will be eligible for planting grants, subject of course to the silvicultural and environmental conditions of the scheme being met. Coppice woodland can have particularly high conservation value if managed in a traditional way and will be eligible for the woodland management grant provided that the other conditions are met.

    A number of bodies thought that increased provision should be made for open spaces in determining the areas eligible for Forestry Commission planting grants. In administering the woodland grant scheme the commission is already fully aware of the value of open ground and the associated edge habitats for reasons of landscape, nature conservation, recreation and game management. There can be no question of planting grants being paid on large areas left unplanted. We have, however, asked the commission to continue to adopt a flexible approach, particularly where a modest amount of open space over and above what is normally required for roads and rides would bring significant benefits to the woodland environment.

    We are very conscious of the cost and difficulties of growing some species of broadleaves in those areas where populations of grey squirrel are high. The review has indicated that the setting up of grey squirrel control groups has met with only limited success. We have asked the Forestry Commission to persevere with these initiatives since co-operative effort is essential. In areas vulnerable to grey squirrels, prescriptions for their control will be an obligatory part of the approved management plan on which grant will be paid.

    In our recent response to the Agriculture Committee's report "Land Use and Forestry", we agreed that Coed Cymru was a useful illustration of the effective integration of advisory services which had been successful in delivering advice to woodland owners. We have asked the Forestry Commission to consider encouraging parallel projects as one of the important means of providing an effective advisory service elsewhere in Britain. The Forestry Commission will also seek to increase the help which its own foresters can give, particularly in the co-ordination of advice, the training of advisers and the better marketing of the produce from broadleaved woods.

    The Government are grateful to all those who contributed so constructively to this review of broadleaves policy, and we are sure that the decision to introduce woodland management grants will be particularly welcomed by both forestry and environmental interests. The policy we introduced in 1985 has proved to be soundly based and has already had a significant impact on British forestry. With the changes I have announced, we are well placed to continue with the important task of conserving and enhancing the value of our woodland heritage.

    Woodland management grants: Grant rates effective from 1 April 1992

    Type of grant

    Period of eligibility (age of wood in years)

    Rate of grant (£ per ha per annum)

    Standard Management Grant
    Special Management Grant11 onwards35
    Supplement for small woods
    Standard: Conifer(as for main grant)5
    Broadleaved(as for main grant)10
    Special grant(as for main grant)10

    Note: Mixed woodlands will be eligible for the broadleaved and conifer element of the grant in proportion to the area occupied by the two categories.