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Concerns raised over National Trust tree planting plans

Farmers’ Union of Wales’ (FUW) staff have expressed major concerns regarding the implications for members, who are National Trust tenants, given the Trust’s plans to plant large numbers of trees on their land. 

The concerns were expressed during a meeting of the Union’s County Executive Officers who represent members in Wales’ twelve FUW county regions, some of which include large areas of land owned by the trust.

On Thursday (January 9) the General Director of the Trust revealed plans to grow 20 million trees over the next 10 years by planting saplings or removing livestock to allow self-seeding and dozens of farm tenancies are to be altered as they come up for renewal to cut sheep and cattle numbers.

To achieve their target, the Trust is looking to spend about £90 million creating 18,000 hectares of woodland, increasing the proportion of Trust land that is forest from 10 % to 17 % by 2030.

Speaking after the meeting, FUW President Glyn Roberts said: “Our members are fully supportive of appropriate tree planting where this does not undermine farm productivity and the environment. Indeed they regularly complain about the obstacles they come across when they try to plant trees.

“However, many National Trust farmers have contacted us to raise concerns regarding the announcement. Of course, given the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the role played by soils and plants in sequestering carbon is rightly attracting significant attention, with a particular focus on the planting of trees.

“But we mustn’t forget that within the past century, the area of woodland in Wales increased threefold, from 5% in 1919 to around 15% in 2016, with mainly deciduous farm woodlands making up 30% of the area.”

The Union President further stressed that the experience over the past century highlights the damage that well-intentioned policies aimed at increasing woodland areas can have.

“With the trust proposing to remove sheep and cattle from land to allow natural afforestation, it must also be remembered that the removal of agriculture has been directly associated by scientists with habitat and species loss in hundreds of examples from around the world, including the UK.”

The charity Plantlife recently warned that ‘…more than half of all wild plants need regular management or disturbance to thrive; 611 (39.6%) species will decline within a decade if the land on which they grow is simply abandoned and 127 (16.4%) will decline within 1-3 years’.

“If the National Trust wants to do more to become carbon neutral, perhaps looking at providing public transport to their sites would be a good place to start. That is especially pertinent if we consider their annual visitor numbers top 25 million and the carbon footprint these generate.

“Transport is the third-highest polluter, with agriculture responsible for just 10% of greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, UK beef and lamb carbon emissions are 35% lower than the current global average and emissions from Welsh agriculture have decreased by 12% since 1990 as a result of a range of improvements.”

Given such concerns, Mr Roberts has written to the Trust to ask them to clarify their plans and highlighted the concerns of tenants as well as those who farm near National Trust land.