Payments for controlling grey squirrels and deer in planted woodland are a great idea — but too much form-filling may prove to be a deterrent
Tree planting is very much in vogue. Everyone, it seems, wants to plant trees. Many are doing it for selfless, altruistic reasons, others to improve their shoots and add variety to their farms. And some, it must be said, are buying ground and planting trees with the sole intention of making money from selling the woodland carbon credits to businesses that are aiming to be carbon neutral.
I am certainly in favour of the planting of more trees, but they need to be the right sort of trees and to be planted in the right places. The last thing we need is a further loss of biodiversity caused by something that is supposed to be storing carbon and doing the exact opposite.
But I do wonder if people have taken into account the amount of work, other than the more obvious thinning and weeding, that goes into managing a wood once it is planted. Buying the ground and planting the trees is the easy bit. Looking after them and getting them away and growing is time-consuming and more a labour of love than a route to riches.
The control of grey squirrels and deer in these new woods is going to be vital. If these creatures aren’t properly controlled, the trees will be browsed and thrashed by the deer when they are first planted, and the hardwoods hammered by the squirrels when they get to 15 to 20 years old. If there is no control, there will be no trees to speak of, no final crop. The owners of the wood could well find themselves having to pay back some or all of the money they were paid for the credits, because the carbon they agreed to sequest when they signed the contract isn’t being stored.
If the trees are planted on an estate or a farm where there is a shoot, it will undoubtedly be the gamekeeper, stalker or shoot members who will be asked to keep an eye on things. If not, it is most likely fall to amateur pest controllers and rough shooters to control the grey squirrels and amateur stalkers to cull the deer. This is no bad thing if it opens up opportunities for people to shoot and stalk.
There are some recently introduced Government payments available for the control and management of squirrels and deer that could help with costs. But having had a look at the paperwork, and taken into account the amount of extra time and effort it is going to take to claim a relatively small amount of money, I am unsure how many people are actually going to bother to fill in the forms.
A £50 per hectare payment to control squirrels isn’t a huge amount of money but does, on its own, sound rather appealing. But there is so much form-filling, and there are so many hoops to jump through, that I can’t see it taking off. Surveying a wood and logging the data takes time, and time is the one thing many of us are short of.
If we put our time at a nominal £10 per hour, the £50 per hectare payment doesn’t go very far and I doubt it will be enough to encourage the people who don’t bother controlling their grey squirrels to start.
The payment for the control of deer at £90 per hectare is higher and, as most of us have deer and woodland management plans in place anyway, it is going to be a lot easier to move the information across. But again, there is a huge amount of paperwork.
Don’t get me wrong, a financial incentive for woodland owners to better manage their squirrels and deer is a good idea and long overdue. The new payment scheme does this and is most definitely a step in the right direction. But I do feel it trips itself up with unnecessary form-filling and a number of superfluous demands. It’s a shame.