When I heard of Pippa Hackett’s new Native Tree Area (NTA) scheme last autumn, I thought it was manna from heaven to a guy like me.
This scheme – which should really be called Pippa’s Long Awaited Native Tree scheme (PLANT) – was introduced to grant aid the widespread establishment of small (less than 2ha) blocks of native woodland on farms.
It’s something I believe in. Every farm should have some blocks of native trees, not least to replace the disappearing ash.
This scheme is not to be confused with agro-forestry, where you plant single rows of trees in a field and try to grow crops between them. This has zero appeal to me. Poles are bad enough.
But as a fellow who has planted, over the years, some large blocks of forestry and additionally seven or eight small blocks of trees, the NTA was attractive. Furthermore, the premium was a further incentive. It’s money for jam.
So, quite excited, I identified an appropriate site, a (0.8ha) triangular corner of a 10.6ha tillage field and I called my registered forester who made a site visit.
He did the necessary screening and the site came back as all good. I paid him his fee and the application went in before Christmas. It’s a fast-track scheme and no licence is required.
The forestry division duly came back and said part of the proposed triangle wasn’t the required 20m wide. Of course, it’s not all 20m wide as it’s a triangle for goodness sake but the average width is way in excess of this. But no, they wouldn’t include the narrowing point of the triangle. We said if you have to be pedantic about it, then knock it off. Is this for real?
Peace returned – but only for a few hours. The jobsworths in the forestry division were clearly at work behind the scenes.
Later that day, they advised my forester that the site was ineligible for the NTA due to archaeological evidence in the field.
We asked for proof and were shown a map of the field with a few yellow lines on it. There’s no evidence of anything like this in the field’s flat topography. It’s all been in tillage for 50 years and I’ve never found so much as a medieval plough share or even the dead ploughman.
Now, in fairness, I must tell you that my auld pile, where I camp with Mrs P, is of great (and draughty) antiquity, and situated 250m from the proposed site. This possibly waved a red flag in the forestry division. But for whatever reason, now I’m out the cost of the application and no grant.
If there are significant archaeological remains, surely they are better protected under a few widely spaced trees? Are there not some ancient remains in every field if you want to find them?
Undaunted, I said to my forester I’d tell the forestry division to shove the NTA and I’d plant it myself. But it gets worse. You cannot plant more than 0.1ha without a licence. This law was brought in within the past two years. You don’t actually own your land anymore.
The forestry division as it exists today is not fit for purpose. In my experience, between the manner in which it has dealt with ash dieback, felling licences and bureaucracy, the like of which I now speak, anyone would be mad to contemplate planting.
The forestry division is full of dead wood. It’s up to Pippa Hackett in the few months that are left to her in office to start clearing it out. It’ll not be easy but someone has to do it.
Otherwise, the NTA (or PLANT) scheme will never get off the ground.