Consultation launched on the England Tree Strategy” (Defra, 19 June 2020) 

Dear Sirs,


Following the recent opening of the England Tree Strategy consultation from Defra, I write to you from Lark Rise Farm, my 450-acre arable farm in Cambridgeshire, owned by the Countryside Restoration Trust (CRT). Whilst it’s in CRT’s inherent nature to support funding for farmers to expand tree cover, thus reducing carbon emissions and restoring ecosystems, I feel it’s also paramount we consider our nation’s food security at a time of potential crisis. 


Ahead of drilling last September, it was estimated that the UK would produce 17m tonnes of wheat this year. After few crops were drilled due to flooding, this was downgraded to 10m tonnes, and a few weeks ago, it dropped to 7-8m tonnes due to drought.  


In reality, we need 13-14m tonnes of wheat to feed our growing population and we already import half of what is required. Wheat is a staple part of our diet but if thousands of hectares are taken out of food production to plant trees, how are we going to make up the deficit? 


Arable growing in the East of England is crucial - 50% of wheat tonnage produced in the UK is in a 50-mile radius of Cambridgeshire. Therefore, a careful balance is required as to how much farmland we give up, and where to plant trees to benefit the environment versus being able to feed ourselves and reduce imports with little traceability. 


At Lark Rise Farm, we provide a biodiverse habitat with a mixture of non-competitive broad-leaved weeds in the base of our crops. But this may be not be the case on other farms growing cereals and if many of these fields are replaced with trees, one type of monoculture could be swapped for another. 


Under a conifer canopy it’s dark most of the day and only suits certain flora and fauna. Instead of changing one monoculture for another, let’s take a holistic approach and plant an environment – not just trees. Plant trees at low density with ample spacing and a diverse mix of native tree and plant species to enable nature to flourish whilst wildlife-friendly farming practices, such as mosaic cropping that sequester carbon, encourage biodiversity and improve health and wellbeing while keeping land productive and viable.  


Furthermore, biosecurity should be taken into consideration. Trees planted in this country should be propagated in UK nurseries to avoid the spread of imported foreign diseases, such as Ash Dieback and Dutch elm disease, which have already had a profound effect on habitats.  


And finally, with the UK economy due to fall into recession following COVID-19, it’ll be interesting to see if there’ll be an increase in forestry workers to manage numerous new woodland areas or whether incentives will result in less farmworkers. 


Tim Scott

 Countryside Restoration Trust Trustee and Tenant Farmer, Cambridgeshire