Landowner Estates Pushing Tenants Out for Tree Planting

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By Caroline Squire, TFA Adviser

The UK Government’s green objectives for net zero and biodiversity recovery have put tree planting firmly on the political agenda. The UK Government sees tree planting play a huge role in meeting its targets to achieve net zero by 2050 and improving biodiversity by 2030. As a result, the UK Government has set a target of planting 30,000 hectares of new woodland every year by 2025 and furthermore it has pledged to triple the amount of woodland created in the current Parliament.

However, it is feared that tenant farmers will lose out in the Government’s push to meet its tree planting targets, firstly because most tenant farmers will be excluded from taking part in planting schemes themselves due to their tenancy agreements only allowing them to use their farms for agricultural purposes – and tree planting is of course not an agricultural purpose. Secondly, some tenant farmers may even face having land removed from their tenancy agreements due to their landlord wanting to cash in on the lucrative planting schemes available themselves.

Photo by Veronica White on Unsplash
Photo by Veronica White on Unsplash

Tenants with Agricultural Holdings Act tenancies (AHAs) have some statutory protection preventing landlords being able to forcefully take back land solely for tree planting purposes without the tenant’s agreement. However, tenant farmers who have Farm Business Tenancy (FBT) agreements are particularly vulnerable as the landlord’s ability to take land back falls entirely to the terms of the individual agreement. Clauses allowing landlords to take back land specifically for tree planting are becoming ever more commonplace, and even if there isn’t a clause specifically allowing a landlord to take land back for tree planting, the landlord may be able to utilise a date specific break clause or serve a notice to quit if the fixed term of the FBT has expired, to take land back in hand.

The Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) has had a win with its lobbying in this regard, in that landlords who repossess land from a tenant under a disputed notice to quit will not be eligible for funding under the English Woodland Creation Offer. The application form also includes questions concerning whether the land was in a tenancy agreement in the last twelve months and whether any of the land has been resumed from a tenant in order to make the application – this will enable the situation to be monitored to determine whether further restrictions are needed to prevent landlords taking land back in hand purely to take advantage of tree planting grants.

Worryingly, the most recent DEFRA farm rent survey already shows a 3% reduction in the land area let on Farm Business Tenancies, which is thought to be a direct result of landlords taking land back for tree planting and rewilding purposes already, so that they can capitalise on such schemes themselves. Whilst one would expect to see a reduction in land area let on AHA tenancies, as no new AHA tenancies are granted other than successions, one would expect the land area let on FBTs to increase as time goes on. This is, therefore, a very concerning statistic and one which needs watching carefully, as such a trend could severely damage the resilience of the tenant farming sector. Given that a third of the UK’s agricultural land is tenanted this could have huge repercussions to domestic food supply and food security.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

The Government’s drive for tree planting has come at a time when arguably we should be giving more thought to food security. The Russia - Ukraine conflict has exposed the vulnerability of the UK’s food security with only 60% of the food the UK consumes being produced domestically. A huge 40% of the UK’s food supply is imported. Russia and Ukraine are two of the largest exporters of wheat in the world, together accounting for approximately 30% of international wheat exports. Needless to say, the global supply of wheat will be drastically reduced this year. This will no doubt result in food shortages and price hikes due to the disruption to normal agricultural operations in Ukraine and the trade sanctions on Russia and together with its attempts to use food supply as a weapon of war. With this in mind, the Government’s push for tree planting, which could potentially take thousands of acres of farmable land out of production, is somewhat questionable.

Even if farmable land was planted with trees to achieve the Government’s net zero ambitions, all this would result in is an even heavier reliance on food imports. This will increase carbon emissions due to the thousands of miles it has had to travel, and therefore, whilst we may be meeting net zero targets domestically, carbon emissions will still be produced (and more so due to the extra food miles), and the problem will merely be exported elsewhere.

Indeed, letting farmable land for sustainable food production and keeping food miles at a minimum may actually prove to be a more practical and fruitful solution in terms of achieving the Government’s carbon objectives.

Contact the Tenant Farmers Association by calling 0118 930 6130 or visit here for more details.

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Posted On: 26/04/2022

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