Tree targets must not inhibit food production, union warns

The Welsh government has set out ambitious targets to increase tree cover to combat climate change
The Welsh government has set out ambitious targets to increase tree cover to combat climate change

Woodland expansion in Wales must not infringe on farmers' ability to produce food, NFU Cymru has warned as part of its newly released tree planting strategy.

The union's 'Growing Together' strategy identifies the barriers and opportunities that exist to deliver on woodland objectives while safeguarding food production.

The report has been released as farmers in England and Wales work toward the industry's goal of achieving net-zero agriculture by 2040.

Ambitious targets to increase tree cover to help adapt to the challenges presented by climate change have also been unveiled.

The Welsh government has committed to a target of planting 43,000 hectares of new woodland by 2030.

But NFU Cymru said that a decision-making framework was needed to guide tree planting decisions so that the long-term impacts could be properly assessed.

Its new strategy promotes an ethos to future tree planting in Wales that would advocate more trees integrated into farming systems, rather than replacing them.

Any future schemes should also be properly resourced and simple for farmers to apply to, the union said, while rewarding them for existing and new tree and hedgerow cover.

NFU Cymru President John Davies said farmers were 'strongly resistant' to the planting of trees on prime farmland, and the loss of farms for complete afforestation was 'highly emotive'.

"With the right incentives, however, many farmers are enthusiastic about increasing tree cover at an appropriate scale on what they would identify as less productive areas of the farm," he added.

“Future schemes should reward farmers to plant hedges, shelterbelts, gullies and field corners; allow farmers to establish woodland at field scale on land they identify as of low agricultural and habitat value and provide an economic return to farmers.”

Other key asks in the Growing Together strategy include more support to further develop the supply of home-grown saplings in Wales.

It also says that tenancy reform is needed to allow tenants to benefit from tree planting at an appropriate scale, alongside safeguards for tenants and commoners so they are not removed from the land.

NFU Cymru rural affairs board chairman, Hedd Pugh said the union was supportive of measures that facilitate and reward farmers for existing and additional woodland planting and wider carbon stores on-farm.

"We also need to see the development of a mechanism of safeguards that protect our rural communities and agricultural productive capacity for the future," he added.