The Oxfordshire Treescape Project
The Oxfordshire Treescape Project is a small, collaborative project set up in 2019 in response to concerns about how to balance the UK government’s ambitious tree planting targets with both sustainable food production and the need to protect and restore the natural environment. We are run by the charity GrowGreenCarbon in collaboration with University of Oxford’s Leverhulme Centre for Nature Recovery.
With over 70% of UK land being used for agriculture, the farming industry must be central to land use discussions. Defra’s Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) aims to help UK agriculture move towards farming that promotes the protection and enhancement of our vital natural resources, such as healthy soil, clean water and biodiversity. However, farmers are already feeling the bite in their income from progressive reductions in Basic Payment Scheme (BPS), and there is not enough detail available on ELMS to give farmers confidence that the new scheme will stack up financially.
The Oxfordshire Treescape Project recognises a need to support land managers in the transition away from BPS towards ELMS, which ideally should help to protect and enhance our existing natural assets, while maintaining food production. We see an opportunity for farmers to access alternative funding schemes that make up for the loss of BPS income, but to do this, farmers may need to think about new skills and new ways of approaching their farming practices and business.
We address this opportunity in the form of mapping, working closely with the University of Oxford’s Dr Alison Smith, and informed by consultation with farmers and landowners. Based on this mapping we are now able to offer Opportunity Reports to landowners and land managers which show, for their land:
- Existing natural assets including high grade agricultural land, wildlife sites, woodland, species rich grassland and hedgerows;
- Where new treescapes could be established, including agroforestry, hedges, species rich grassland and woodland;
- The natural benefits that these treescapes would bring, including natural flood management, recreation and well-being, biodiversity, air pollution reduction and carbon capture, as well as where a treescape brings multiple benefits.
The reports are created in partnership with the Thames Valley Environmental Records Centre and are currently provided free of charge, thanks to funding from the Woodland Trust.
So far, we’ve provided Opportunity Reports to 40 Oxfordshire landowners and are keen to support more. The reports help to start conversations and to stimulate ideas that feed into long-term land or farm management planning. We encourage land managers to discuss their Opportunity Report with their usual advisors; we can also give suggestions of knowledgeable experts who may be able to provide further support and advice in specialist areas, such as Nicholsons Lockhart Garratt.
Oxfordshire farmers who’ve received our reports have:
- Used their Opportunity Report to feed into farm planning and Countryside stewardship applications;
- Begun to consider agroforestry on their land, and have gone on to speak with relevant consultants;
- Thought about trees as assets to support their farming business into the future, for example planting shelter belts so that they maximise cooling shade for livestock in increasingly hot summers or planting new hedges.
Many farmers have up until now seen trees and hedges as a cost to their businesses, but we encourage report recipients to think of them as tools in their farming toolbox. While currently many farmers are looking at Countryside Stewardship, ELMS and potentially Biodiversity Net Gain as simply a way to offset the loss of BPS, there are in fact a multitude of ways in which trees, hedges and agroforestry can be used to support business diversification and build the climate resilience of farmland and enterprises.
These issues are not limited to land managers – local communities in both rural and urban areas are also intrinsically linked with nature and food systems. This is increasingly recognised in funding requirements for land managers, such as ELMS and the England Woodland Creation Offer, with schemes requiring not just access or amenities for communities, but genuine engagement and opportunities for collaborative enterprise. In recognition of this, we also offer our Opportunity Reports to parish councils, and have now supplied them to over 80 Oxfordshire parishes. As the most local form of government, parish councils have responsibilities for the wellbeing of their local community, are well rooted in local communities and have longevity. Above all, local residents have a strong long-term interest in their “home patch”. We encourage parishes to consider nature recovery opportunities on parish or community land, as well as develop mutually supportive relationships with local landowners that can support nature recovery alongside productive agriculture.
So far, our opportunity mapping service is only available in Oxfordshire, but we are working with Oxford University and the LandApp to extend the mapping to other areas of the country.
Please contact email@example.com for any queries, or to request a report for your land or parish. You can also request a report via our website, where you can view an example Opportunity Report and find out more about our organisation.