Trees and woodland: management and conservation
This guidance was withdrawn on
For current guidance see Forestry Commission England.
Preserving woodland environments on farmland, funding for new areas, and the environmental impact of forestry projects.
England’s trees, woods and forests (ETWF) are rich in biodiversity, and woodlands are popular places for recreation and leisure. They provide products such as fuel and wood for use in our daily lives and are part of the solution to climate change.
With good management they are also a sustainable resource for future generations. The ETWF strategy 2007 sets out the government’s aims for our woodlands.
This guide covers the preservation and management of trees and woodland environments on farmland, the creation of significant new areas of woodland and the different funding schemes available. It also sets out the requirements of grazed woodland and tree felling, and explains the environmental impact assessment of forestry projects and environmental stewardship in relation to woodlands.
Farmers and landowners will learn which good agricultural and environmental conditions are relevant to trees and woodlands under cross compliance.
Trees, woodland and cross compliance
To qualify for full payment under the Single Payment Scheme (SPS) and other direct payments, eg the Environmental Stewardship schemes, you must meet all relevant cross compliance requirements. These requirements are split into two types:
- Statutory Management Requirements (SMRs)
- requirements to keep your land in Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition (GAEC)
For more information on SMRs and GAECs, see the guides on cross compliance: the basics, Statutory Management Requirements (SMRs) and standards of Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition (GAEC).
Certain GAECs affect trees and woodland.
GAEC 5 - Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)
These requirements take account of the environmental importance of uncultivated land and semi-natural areas. They may apply if you intend to increase the productivity of semi-natural land or land that has not been cultivated within the last 15 years. Download guidance on the requirements of GAEC 5 - EIAs from the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) website (PDF, 995KB).
GAEC 16 - Felling of trees
If you need a licence to fell trees on your land, GAEC 16 specifies the conditions you must meet. View the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (Defra’s) guidance on the requirements of GAEC 16 - felling of trees on the Agricultural Document Library (ADLib) website.
GAEC 9 - Overgrazing and unsuitable supplementary feeding
Overgrazing in your woodland can damage its environmental value, eg by preventing new trees from regenerating, or grazing or trampling of ancient woodland flora such as bluebells. If you keep livestock on natural or semi-natural vegetation, then GAEC 9 applies to you. View Defra’s guidance on the requirements of GAEC 9 - overgrazing and unsuitable supplementary feeding, on the ADLib website.
The English Woodland Grant Scheme
If you own woodland in England and it is registered on the Rural Land Register, you may be eligible for certain grants. These fall under either the EWGS or the SPS, more typically in the case of grazed woodland.
The Forestry Commission offers a number of grants through EWGS, which is delivered by the Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE). See the guide on the RDPE for more information.
EWGS aims to:
- sustain and increase the public benefits derived from existing woodlands
- invest in creating new woodlands for additional public benefit
The EWGS includes grants such as:
- Woodland Planning Grant - contributes to the cost of producing a plan to allow decisions about woodland operations to be efficient and sustainable. It supports woodland owners looking to attain certification to the UK Woodland Assurance Standard.
- Woodland Assessment Grant - for gathering information to improve management decisions - for example, by gathering information on stakeholder interests or ecological assessment of sensitive woodlands.
- Woodland Regeneration Grant - for supporting change in woodland composition through natural regeneration or restocking after felling, to deliver environmental improvements such as ancient woodland restoration.
- Woodland Improvement Grant - for work in woodlands to provide environmental and social benefits, such as, coppice restoration, uneconomic thinning, access tracks and public access facilities.
- Woodland Management Grant - for helping with the additional costs of providing and sustaining higher-quality public benefits from existing woodlands, including management of rides, coppicing, uneconomic thinning and pest management.
- Woodland Creation Grant - for encouraging the creation of new woodlands, offering extra financial incentive where they deliver the greatest public benefits, including annual Farm Woodland Payments to compensate for lost agricultural income.
You can read about the EWGS and individual grants on the Forestry Commission website. For an EWGS application pack, you can call the EWGS hotline on 01223 346 004.
English Woodland and the Single Payment Scheme
If you own woodland in England, you may be eligible for certain grants. These grants fall under either the SPS or the EWGS.
Woodlands are not eligible under the SPS except in certain circumstances. You can use grazed woodland to claim SPS payment if it meets SPS eligibility requirements.
You may also be able to claim for land that was activated under the SPS in 2008 and is under agreement with the Forestry Commission in either the old Farm Woodland Premium Scheme, the EWGS or the Woodland Grant Scheme. This will include new woodland created under the EWGS, as long as the land was activated for SPS in 2008. Areas which were used to activate SPS payment in 2008 and which receive grants under the National Forest’s Changing Landscapes Scheme may also be eligible under SPS.
You can also claim SPS for some existing woodland under the following Natural England schemes, as long as it either meets the criteria for grazed woodland or was used to activate SPS entitlements in 2008:
- Environmental Stewardship - including Entry Level Stewardship (ELS), Organic Entry Level Stewardship (OELS) and Higher Level Stewardship (HLS)
- Countryside Stewardship Scheme
- Environmentally Sensitive Areas
You can also claim under the SPS for new woodland entered into Environmental Stewardship, provided it was used to activate SPS entitlements in 2008.
For more information, you can also read the guide on the Single Payment Scheme (SPS).
Woodland is also eligible for ELS payment, although only two options are available.
Grazed woodland and the Single Payment Scheme
Woodland is not normally eligible for payment under the SPS, but grazed woodland may qualify, if it is:
- kept in good agricultural and environmental condition in accordance with cross compliance
- compliant with Environmental Impact Assessment (Forestry) Regulations
- not overgrazed
- registered on the Rural Land Register (RLR) to receive payments, although the specific requirements vary - the RLR is not the same as the HM Land Registry
Parcels of grazed woodland with fewer than 50 trees per hectare are eligible under the SPS. Those with over 50 trees can only be eligible if certain conditions are met. New woodland that is grazed may also be eligible for the SPS, provided that the trees are adequately protected from grazing. You can find more information on the SPS on the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) website.
If your grazed woodland is under a number of separate Forestry Commission schemes, then it is not eligible for payment under SPS as grazed woodland. This is because in order to receive payment under these schemes the land must have been taken out of agricultural production. This includes:
- woodland used to support an application under the Farm Woodland scheme
- woodland used to support an application under the Farm Woodland Premium scheme
- new planting under the Woodland Grant Scheme
- woodland under the Woodland Creation Grant and Farm Woodland Payment under the English Woodland Grant Scheme (EWGS)
This rule also applies to all open space areas funded under these schemes. However, following EU regulatory changes, there are certain circumstances under which land in these schemes is now eligible for SPS.
For more information about the SPS in general, see the guide on the Single Payment Scheme (SPS).
There is increasing interest in using cattle for nature conservation management in woodlands. Low density grazing may provide biodiversity benefits in woodlands, by:
- reducing dense vegetation
- breaking up vegetation mats
- opening up ground layer vegetation
- benefiting tree regeneration
- increasing the variety of vegetation types and associated invertebrates and birds
Woodland and environmental stewardship in England
The Environmental Stewardship scheme aims to produce widespread environmental benefits, by providing funding to farmers and land managers in England who deliver effective environmental management on their land.
Environmental Stewardship aims to:
- conserve wildlife and biodiversity
- maintain and enhance landscape quality and character
- protect the historic environment and natural resources
- promote public access and understanding of the countryside
- protect natural resources
There are three elements to Environmental Stewardship:
- Entry Level Stewardship (ELS)
- Organic Entry Level Stewardship (OELS)
- Higher Level Stewardship (HLS)
You will usually only achieve the full benefits of Environmental Stewardship by combining the ELS or OELS options with the more demanding HLS options. For more information, see the guide on Environmental Stewardship: the basics. You could also contact your regional office of Natural England.
Woodland is eligible for ELS payments if farmers propose sufficient work over the whole farm. This may include:
- maintaining a stock-proof woodland boundary to prevent livestock grazing and causing environmental damage
- establishing a woodland margin buffer of two metres on agricultural land adjacent to woodland edges
You can read more in the guide on Entry Level Stewardship (ELS). You can also browse the ELS handbook on the Natural England website.
HLS involves more complex environmental management, so you will need technical advice and support from your local Natural England advisers.
The HLS scheme can pay for creating, restoring and maintaining woodland, wood pasture, scrub and orchards.
For more information, see the guide on Higher Level Stewardship (HLS), or access the ELS handbook on the Natural England website.
Environmental Impact Assessment of forestry projects
EIA regulations for England and Wales help assess the impact on land of the potential environmental damage from the following forestry activities:
- afforestation - creating new woods and forests by planting trees on an area that has not had trees for many years, including using direct seeding or natural regeneration, and planting Christmas trees
- deforestation - conversion of woodland to another type of land use, eg heathland
- forest roads - forming, altering or maintaining private ways on land used, or to be used, for forestry purposes, including roads within a forest or leading to one
- forest quarries - where quarrying is carried out for materials for forest road works on land that is used or is to be used for forestry purposes
Anyone wanting to carry out these forestry activities must, where relevant, get permission from the Forestry Commission, and submit an Environmental Statement supporting their proposals.
For details of the EIA regulations, see the guide on Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA), or download the Forestry Commission’s guidance on the EIA of Forestry Projects from the ADLib website (PDF, 865KB).
You can also contact your local Forestry Commission office for advice.
Getting the Forestry Commission’s opinion
If you are planning to carry out afforestation or deforestation work that may require an EIA, you must provide certain information in advance. This is a formal process for the Forestry Commission to give its opinion on whether your proposals require consent.
This information will usually be part of:
- a woodland grant scheme application - for initial afforestation
- an application for a felling licence - for deforestation
- Environmental Stewardship
- an EIA determination form - if you choose not to take up grant aid for the work, you must use the stand alone determination form to apply for the Forestry Commission’s opinion
If the Forestry Commission decides that your proposals will have a significant effect on the environment, then you will need to produce an environmental statement. This is a report on the significant environmental effects of the proposal. It must focus on the main impacts of the proposal and give decision-makers a full understanding of its consequences. You can download the Forestry Commission’s advice on preparing an environmental statement from the ADLib website (PDF, 501KB).
If your work requires EIA consent, and you carry it out without applying for consent, or if you breach the conditions of a consent already given, you can be issued with an ‘enforcement notice’. This may require you to stop the work, restore the land to its original condition and/or correct any environmental damage.
You can find local Forestry Commission office details on their website. You can also call the EWGS hotline on 01223 346 004.
Tree felling legislation
Before you can fell growing trees - even a small group of trees - you are likely to need a felling licence from the Forestry Commission. This licence applies to everyone involved in the activity, whether you are doing the work yourself or engaging others - for example, the owner, agent, timber merchant or contractor.
A felling licence usually includes restocking conditions, meaning you must restock the felled area and maintain the trees for up to ten years. However, you can get a felling licence for thinning trees without a restocking condition.
The Forestry Commission can also advise you on how to apply and when you may need a licence. Find contact details for Forestry Commission country offices on their website.
Tree felling is covered by good agricultural and environmental condition (GAEC) 16 under cross compliance.
In any calendar quarter, you may fell up to five cubic metres on your property without a licence, as long as you do not sell more than two cubic metres. Also, certain types of work or felling do not need permission - for example:
- lopping and topping trees
- felling fruit trees or trees growing in a garden, churchyard or designated public open space
- felling trees as part of an approved dedication plan
Applying for a tree felling licence
You can apply for a licence if you own the land on which the trees are growing, or if you are a tenant and your lease entitles you to fell the trees. Download a tree felling licence application form from the Forestry Commission website (PDF, 86KB).
What is a tree preservation order (TPO)?
TPOs are issued by a local planning authority to protect trees and woodlands as important amenity features. A TPO makes it an offence to cut down, top, lop, uproot, wilfully damage or wilfully destroy a tree without the planning authority’s permission. Download a Communities and Local Government guide to tree preservation procedures from the ADLib website (PDF, 1.01MB).
If the trees to be felled are covered by a TPO or located in a Conservation Area, you must inform your local Forestry Commission.
Felling in grant schemes
If you apply to carry out felling or thinning as part of a grant scheme application, then you don’t need to make a separate felling licence application, as you will get a Felling Licence Certificate with your approved contract. After felling, you must meet the licence’s restocking conditions. Grants are available in each country to help with restocking under a felling licence.
Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) and tree felling
Any proposal to fell trees and use the land for another purpose will be assessed under the EIA (Forestry) Regulations. Any work having a significant effect on the environment will also need the consent of the Forestry Commission. For more information, see the guide on Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA).
Safety issues for tree felling
Using portable, hand-held, petrol-engine chainsaws for felling and crown breakdown of large trees has several safety issues. You can download advice for using chainsaws for tree felling from the Health & Safety Executive website (PDF, 731KB). If a risk assessment shows that advanced or alternative felling techniques are required, you should seek specialist advice.
Local planning authorities have specific powers to protect trees by issuing TPOs, although the Forestry Commission is responsible for the control of tree felling generally. A TPO is an order made by a local planning authority, making it an offence to cut down, top, lop, uproot, wilfully damage or wilfully destroy a tree without the planning authority’s permission.
There are also special provisions for trees within conservation areas designated by local planning authorities.
Penalties for felling without a licence
It is an offence to fell protected trees without a licence or other valid permission, and you can incur a substantial fine, as well as risking prosecution. If you do not comply with the conditions of your Felling Licence or Restocking Notice, anyone involved can be prosecuted and could face an Enforcement Notice, with a possible fine for not obeying the conditions.
If there is any doubt, tree owners should contact their local planning authority, which administers the legislation.
Best practice and standards for preserving and managing trees and woodland
Trees and woodland are protected through a combination of legislation and best practice woodland management.
The revised UK Forestry Standard sets out the criteria and standards for the sustainable management of all forests and woodlands in the UK. It links directly to the guidelines for greater detail on these key areas:
- forests and landscape
- forests and historic environment
- forests and biodiversity
- forests and soil
- forests and climate change
- forests and people
- forests and water
The UK Woodland Assurance Standard (UKWAS) is an independent certification standard for verifying sustainable woodland management in the UK. You can read about the UKWAS process on the UKWAS website.
The Forestry Commission produces a range of good practice guides to support sustainable forest management and the management of semi-natural woodlands in the UK. You can find good practice guides to order online on the Forestry Commission website.
They have also produced several guidance sheets to help you to minimise damage to woodlands - you can:
- download the Forestry Commission’s guidance on the impact of deer on woodland biodiversity from the ADLib Website (PDF, 127KB)
- download a Forestry Commission guide on the prevention of mammal damage from the ADLib website (PDF, 375KB)
- download the Forestry Commission’s guidance on the prevention of rabbit damage from the ADLib website (PDF, 232KB)
- read information on controlling grey squirrel damage on the Forestry Commission website
Natural England EIA helpline
0800 028 2140
01223 346 004
Natural England enquiry service
0845 600 3078
RPA Customer Service Centre
0845 603 7777
08459 33 55 77
0845 603 7777
Cross Compliance helpline
0845 345 1302