David West is the Forestry Commission’s Project Lead for Planting on Public Land, one of the Commission’s responsibilities under the Nature for Climate Fund. In this month’s blog, David tells us more about the Woodland Creation Accelerator Fund, which has been developed to ensure there are enough people, with the right skills, within local authorities to organise and deliver tree planting at scale.
The Climate Change Committee identified the importance of planting trees as part of the response to the climate change emergency. It recommended that 30,000 hectares of trees should be planted in the UK every year to start addressing residual emissions.
In the 2020 budget, the government announced £640m to create a Nature for Climate Fund to plant 40 million trees and restore 35,000 hectares of peatland in England. The Fund, which runs until March 2025, has since been increased to in excess of £700m. Natural England is leading on peat restoration, while the Forestry Commission and the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs are working collectively on woodland creation and tree planting.
Woodland Creation Accelerator Fund: addressing the gap
This is where I fit in. When talking to local authorities about tree planting, it became clear that there was a lack of staff with woodland and tree-planting experience, and new roles couldn’t be funded by the capital grants that sat under the Nature for Climate Fund umbrella.
To address this, in June 2022 we launched the £9.8m Woodland Creation Accelerator Fund – unusually, it is a revenue only scheme that can fund people. ADEPT supported the feasibility phase by bringing together a group of local authorities to test ideas and help shape the final design of the scheme.
The programme isn’t prescriptive and we recognise that local authorities know what’s best for their area. This means that the money can be used for new staff, consultants, secondments…as long as it enables the planting of trees. The skills shortage in the forestry sector is huge and training is part of the mix too.
6,800 hectares of trees by March 2025
Running for two years, there are two strands to the Woodland Creation Accelerator Fund. The first provides up to £150,000 for a solo local authority, which will essentially fund two roles, and the second is up to £300,000 for partnerships.
With further support from ADEPT in promoting the programme, we received 82 bids and were able to fund 57 applications. Collectively, the successful bids have committed to planting 6,800 hectares of trees by March 2025, which is a phenomenal amount. Since the first year’s funding was released in November 2022, ADEPT has created an online forum for the local authorities involved in the programme and we run bi-monthly webinars covering different aspects of woodland planting and management.
We expect the scheme to create in excess of 100 new jobs and in most cases recruitment has already started, with 37 new jobs now filled and 57 either in recruitment or advertised (as of 28th March). ADEPT’s partner, Proving Services, is doing the programme’s monitoring and evaluation and a first progress report has been completed.
Contribution to net zero
Once the new people are in place, they will develop planting plans and apply for capital funding, with a view to being ready for the next planting season in winter 23/24 and again in winter 24/25. We lost a lot of trees last year because of drought, so the earlier in the season the new trees are planted the better to allow the roots to take hold and improve their chances of survival.
In the last few years most local authorities have made a public commitment to achieve net zero by 2050, some sooner, and it is important that we recognise that tree-planting alone will not solve climate change. However, if you want trees to be part of the picture in your climate change adaptation, there is some urgency in planting them now.
They won’t sequest much carbon straight away but they will as they grow over the next 27 years. And, of course, planting trees is not just about the carbon benefits but is also about the positive impact on wildlife and biodiversity by putting the right tree in the right place.
I am currently working on a proposal for a second round of funding and if successful, I hope that some of the local authorities that didn’t receive funding first time round will apply again. However, because we can’t offer funding beyond March 2025 when the Nature for Climate Fund ends, the second phase will only run for 12 months. It will be later this year before we know if a second programme is possible, but if it is, you will be able to find all the details on the Woodland Creation Accelerator Fund page of the ADEPT website.
- Further information on the Woodland Creation Accelerator Fund is available here.
- For more information on ADEPT's climate change work, please take a look at the climate change hub.
David West is the Forestry Commission’s Project Lead for Planting on Public Land.