CONCERNS have been raised over proposed changes to a scheme aimed at supporting upland farmers to enhance their woodland areas.

The government body, Natural England, has suddenly announced that the Wood-Pasture Restoration Option (WD5) within the Countryside Stewardship Scheme is being withdrawn from the uplands with immediate effect.

With many farmers already mid-application or planning to apply for this option in the future, the impact could adversely hit both the environment and upland communities.

David Morley, head of conservation & environment for H&H Land & Estates, said: “This abrupt policy shift affects applications submitted earlier this year, which have already been worked-up by farmers and their local Natural England advisers, and were due to commence on January 1, 2021.

“Natural England’s announcement will come as a devastating blow to many upland farmers looking to enhance the semi-wooded landscapes of their farms through the Higher Tier of the Countryside Stewardship Scheme.

“Wood-pasture – open woodland that is managed by grazing livestock – is a tremendously valuable habitat, in terms of biodiversity, landscape value and carbon storage, which is key in the fight against climate change.

“Because of the open structure, trees tend to become wider and more complex in form than in closed-canopy woodland, and upland wood-pasture typically supports a unique range of plants, fungi and invertebrates.”

He said it is a fundamental component in the upland landscape, as in the Lake District.

The restoration of high-quality wood-pasture usually requires a significant change in management, often involving the adoption of a low-intensity, native cattle grazing regime and the minimal use of any inputs, as well as planting more trees.