Policies to incentivise tree planting in the UK should not lead to reduced food production or inflated prices for agricultural land, representatives from the UK’s farming unions have said.
During an online event on Tuesday, farm leaders raised various concerns about expanding areas of forestry to offset carbon emissions and meet tree planting targets.
John Davies, president of NFU Cymru, said there was already evidence of businesses buying up land in Wales for tree planting to counterbalance their carbon emissions.
“There are ethical questions that need to be asked about [emissions] offsetting which enables those big businesses to carry on as usual and green-wash their activities,” he said.
“Wales is naturally favoured with a grass-based food production system and our food security must be safe guarded. There is no point at all in simply off-shoring our food production,” Davies argued.
NFU Scotland’s Andrew Connon said Scottish landowners are being approached by auctioneers to sell their land to “a long list of waiting investors” who want to plant trees.
“Many of these investors are backed by overseas businesses. We have hugely inflated land prices with forestry out bidding food producers. It is driven by tax incentives, grant funding and perceived market returns from potential carbon trading,” Connon said.
Tree planting targets in devolved regions of the UK were also questioned. Scotland is aiming for 18,000 hectares of new woodland each year, which is almost equivalent to one hectare being planted on every Scottish farm every year.
John Davies said if current tree planting targets for Wales are met, it would equate to the “complete afforestation of 3,750 average family farms”.
“This cannot be a binary choice of farming or forestry. We need to approach targets in a way that safeguards the multiple benefits that farming provides. We need to integrate forestry into future farming policy,” Davies said.