ANYONE thinking about planting woodlands – but who doesn’t know where to begin – can now take advantage of some expert advice from Scottish Forestry’s Grampian Conservancy team.

A limited number of free feasibility studies are being offered to farm businesses in the Grampian region (excluding the Cairngorms National Park) to help the owners assess whether forestry is right for them.

As well as detailing available options, the Farm Woodlands Assessment Scheme will explore predicted expenditure and cash flow through the grant scheme until the woodland is established, and advise on future management – right up to expected first returns from harvesting.

Tim Gordon-Roberts for the Conservancy team, said: “This is a great opportunity for anyone thinking about planting woodland to gain the information and confidence to apply for a grant and to help them see how they can fit woodland creation into their business plan.

“Woodland creation is a great opportunity to bring underutilised, marginal land into productive use, providing a secure longer-term income and maximising business productivity by adding an additional tax free asset to a farm business.

“As well as eventually providing a regular income from timber sales, a new woodland will provide shelter for livestock, habitat for wildlife, and will help to reduce a farm’s carbon footprint – as well as providing an attractive back-drop," said Mr Gordon-Roberts.

Forestry Grant Scheme woodland creation grants provide an initial per-hectare planting payment, which is designed to cover most of the costs of preparing and submitting an application to Scottish Forestry, as well as preparing the ground for planting, buying the trees and getting them planted.

Tree protection costs, like fencing, are paid separately and can be claimed as soon as the work is completed which helps with cash flows. Maintenance payments are also paid for five years to replace any trees that die, carry out weed control and to make sure the tree protection remains fit for purpose. Participating farmers still continue to benefit from the Basic Payment Scheme.

One FGS option is the sheep and trees scheme, which is designed for upland livestock farmers who are interested in planting between 10 and 50 ha of productive conifer woodlands. This scheme provides planting grants and additional support to build the infrastructure needed for timber harvesting, such as forest roads, lorry turning and timber stacking areas.

Building these from the outset provides a real help in managing the rest of the upland areas of the farm until the forest is ready for thinning.

Farmer Peter Gascoigne, who has successfully combined forestry with his sheep enterprise, said: “We have maintained overall agricultural productivity even though we have halved the livestock numbers and replaced hill sheep with a higher quality lowland breed.

“By planting lower quality hill ground with commercial forestry, we’ve created a tax free asset for the business and secured the farm for the future. We’ve retained better quality in-by land for grazing and fully expect the shelter provided by the new woodland to have great benefits for animal husbandry."

For more information on the Farm Woodlands Assessment Scheme, contact Grampian Conservancy on 0300 067 6210 and ask to speak to Tim Gordon-Roberts.