The Daily Telegraph

Cash for trees fails to take root with landowners


PLANS to pay farmers to plant trees and hedges may be in jeopardy because landowners are not interested in taking part in the scheme, a report suggests.

The National Audit Office (NAO) said a pilot of the Sustainabl­e Farming Incentive (SFI) had received fewer than half the applicatio­ns it hoped for, despite making a lucrative offer.

Farmers who plant hedgerows will be paid £24 per 100m of hedge and £49 per hectare of woodland, with different sums to look after bodies of water and patches of grassland.

The SFI was designed to replace subsidies paid to farmers by the EU. Since Brexit, the Government is phasing out payments from the Common Agricultur­al Policy.

A NAO report suggested few farmers are interested in the payments. “Defra assumed there would be 5,000 to 10,000 expression­s of interest out of around 44,000 eligible farmers but it received only 2,178 responses,” the NAO said.

George Eustice, the Environmen­t Secretary, said the NAO recognised “we have made good progress” but added “we will be addressing areas where there have been misunderst­andings in our full response”. A Defra source added: “The planning assumption was not a target.”

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