Tree planting targets could threaten tenant farming

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SCOTLAND’S TENANT farmers have raised concerns over being forced to give up land in order to meet ambitious tree planting targets.

The Scottish Government has announced plans to invest £160m in forestry and agriculture, with the majority of the pot – £150m – being put towards supporting new planting and expanding of Scotland’s national forests and land.

The remaining £10 million will support a Sustainable Agriculture Capital Grant Scheme which will assist farmers and crofters with grants of up to £20,000 to purchase new equipment that will reduce emissions and improve productivity.

The Scottish Tenant Farmers Association commented on the division of the financial pot: “The £10 million being made available to the agricultural sector pales into insignificance in comparison to the £150 million on offer to the forestry industry,” said STFA chairman Christopher Nicholson. “Tree planting targets have nearly doubled since the agreement made by the industry-wide Woodland Expansion Advisory Group in 2012. Increasing incentives have given the forestry industry a new boost and have stimulated landowners to plant trees, once again raising the dilemma of finding suitable land for trees without conflicting with agricultural production.”

This funding will support Scotland to increase planting targets to 18,000 hectares per year in 2012-25.

“Whilst this cash injection will undoubtedly be welcomed by the forestry industry, additional tree planting on this scale threatens the future of the tenanted sector, as marginal land, which traditionally provided opportunities for new blood to enter farming, is diverted instead into forestry,” continued Mr Nicholson. “Tenant farmers are now facing a double whammy. Firstly, land available for new entrants and others to rent will become even scarcer as landowners see tree planting as an attractive alternative to tenant farming. Existing tenancy arrangements are already in danger of not being renewed and STFA is aware of some secure tenants who are being put under pressure to relinquish their land for forestry development.”

At a time when farmers are being urged to diversify, tenant farmers find themselves restricted from taking part in some environmental schemes, including woodland creation, due to the terms of their lease. Although tenants with security of tenure may plant trees with the consent of their landlords legal constraints have usually proved to have been a disincentive. In effect, tenants are not able to operate on a level playing field with owner occupiers, a situation which must be addressed if the tenanted sector is to survive and prosper.

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