Written evidence submitted by Small Woods Association (ELM0016)


Environmental Land Management and the agricultural transition

The Small Woods submission is written in 3 parts:


About Small Woods Association 

Established in 1988, the Small Woods Association (SWA) is a UK-wide charity, supporting those who manage, use, and own our small woodlands, we represent over 2,300 members, who between them represent over 30,000 ha of our nation’s precious woodland resources.  These woodlands are predominantly semi-natural and as our members are passionate about nature and the value of trees and woodlands to society, these woodlands often represent some of the best examples of small woodland management in the UK.   We are also currently running over 30 projects promoting woodlands, their management, use and conservation, including an ELMS Test and Trial looking at an enhanced and appropriate place for woodlands of all sizes and ownerships in the new scheme.  


We promote the role of small woodlands in the achievement of environmental, social, and economic objectives and promote the re-establishment of a wood culture.


The Small Woods Association is working on a Defra Test & Trial to see how to get more small woods (up to 20ha) into more active management under the new ELM scheme to deliver the public goods that the government wants to see. We have been carrying out research to identify what owners of smaller woods need.

Our study is part of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) Tests and Trials programme.  During the trial period funded by Defra until the end of 2021, Small Woods will investigate ways to bring more small woods back into management and what will enable more small woods to benefit from the ELM grant scheme.

We are concerned that many owners of these smaller woods are not farmers, so the new ELM scheme needs to be flexible enough to include them too. The grant scheme will need to provide an incentive to join, so needs to be kept simple with a faster turnaround time than current grant schemes. A key to success will be support with assessment of the woodlands and the provision of advice to encourage owners to change their behaviour and manage woods more actively in future to deliver the public goods that the government wants.

We have looked at the level of woodland management in our study areas over the last 15 years and found that 43% of woods have not been in Forestry Commission approved schemes or felling licences.



Small Woodlands in ELMS – we are pleased to see the progress being made on establishing a replacement for the EU funded land management system and support the overall direction of focusing payments on environmental benefits.  We have made a full response to the consultation and are running a Test and Trials project to investigate how small woodland support might be improved.  Critically, we believe the entry level should not be restricted to farmers and should be a means of support for all managed woodlands that deliver ecosystem services and other public goods, regardless of ownership type.

Small Woods ELM Test and Trial

To investigate how ELM can support the contribution small woodlands make to delivering environmental benefits through improved establishment and management. To develop the substantial environmental potential of smaller woodlands on farm and in the wider landscape in urban, rural, and peri-urban areas by addressing their long-term chronic under-management and under-utilisation and also to encourage the sustainable establishment of new small woods.

To investigate how ELM can support the contribution small woodlands make to delivering environmental benefits through improved management and establishment.

The core questions of our study requiring examination of barriers and of ‘what works,’ vis:

  1. What specialist advice is necessary to maximise public goods through the management of small woodlands and how it might be provided / supported?
  2. Land Management Planning: to what extent are existing woodland management approaches applicable or can ELMS related land management planning be applied. What works best for small woodland management planning?
  3. What works in facilitating necessary or desirable collaboration in the management of small woodlands, what are the barriers, and how can these be overcome to unlock under-utilised woodland resources and?

We have been contacting owners and managers of small woods in seven study areas spread across England through a series of online workshops to understand the issues that they face and how they would like ELMS to work.

Woods in England

There are 1.311 million hectares of woodland in England of this 1.096 million ha are privately owned and of this 0.906 is broadleaved woodland. More than 40% of woodland in England is owned in parcels of less than 20 ha.

The Forestry Commission Evidence and Analysis Team have kindly produced maps and data for our report, analysing the woodlands in each of our study areas using the same methodology and the most up to date Forestry Commission census and grant data.

Across all our study areas the total woodland cover is 206,854ha, 60% is in blocks over 20ha, (i.e., 124.112ha), 15% is in blocks under 3ha, 15% between 3 & 10ha and 10% between 10 & 20 ha. Hence our study includes 40% or 82,741ha of small woodlands.


This chart shows the proportions of woods in different size categories from the Forestry Commission’s mapping of our study areas.


We examined the level of woodland management over the last 15 years and have found that 43% of woods have not been in Forestry Commission approved schemes or had felling licences in our study areas.


Chart showing the proportion of woods managed in FC (Forestry Commission) schemes in our study areas.

Chart showing the differences in the proportion of woods in Forestry Commission schemes across different areas of England

The data above is drawn from the National Forest Inventory (NFI) programme, which monitors woodland and trees within Great Britain. It includes the most in-depth survey carried out on Britain’s woodland and trees to date. It is a GIS dataset. National Forest Inventory - Forest Research

Shown in blue are the proportion of woods that have been engaged with the Forestry Commission and grant process in the last 15 years – this is agreed Forestry Commission shorthand as a proxy measure of management. However work has not always followed from felling consent.

The woods shown in red have not engaged with the Forestry Commission and their management status is unknown but have not required a felling licence or been in a grant scheme. (They are considered by the FC to represent unmanaged woods). It does not mean that the woods are neglected but they are not being actively managed for timber in a way that requires felling permission and the owners have not received any grants to support the management of their woods.

The average across our study areas is that 57% of the total wooded area has been covered by FC licences and grant scheme approvals but 43% has not been (this is 88,947ha in our study areas not in FC schemes).

The woodlands shown are over 0.5 ha in size and at least 20 m width. 

The managed woodland indicator uses inputs from the following grants/incentives/licences with ‘go-live- dates in the last 15 years:

         EWGS (Woodland Management Grant, Woodland Improvement Grant, Woodland Creation Grant, and Woodland Planting Grant)

         Farm Woodland Scheme and Farm Woodland Premium Scheme

         Woodland Grant Scheme (WGS Mark 3)

         Felling Licence approvals


         All our Nation’s Forests managed by Forestry England (aka the Public Forest Estate)

         All Woodland managed by the MoD as part of their training areas


The Forestry Commission acknowledge that this is only an indicator that these woods are being managed and that other woodlands may be in management and not fall within the scope of this indicator.


Issues for EFRA Committee consideration

Based on our research to date, we would suggest the following issues for consideration by the EFRA committee.

Moving from agri-environment to ELM the schemes need to be designed from the ground up to provide broad based environmental land management support, moving away from the CAP-led focus on farmers. Regarding woodlands, in particular, the schemes need to be founded on what will work most appropriately in the woodland context, i.e., land is managed in smaller parcels, often by non-specialist land managers, who therefore need more support and a simpler system to start with. If we are not successful in designing a scheme that is well tailored to England’s woodlands, then woodland managers will largely remain outside the scheme and we will not bring more woodlands into management, with 40% of our woodlands achieving below their potential for people, planet, and the green recovery. The likelihood will also exist that an even greater proportion of newly created woodlands will be unmanaged.

Planting with purpose - We want to ensure that newly planted and established woods do not become the unmanaged and neglected woods of the future. So, the right trees need to be planted in the right places for the right reasons – this will mean that landowners will need advice and support from a range of organisations and businesses including the Forestry Commission and other parts of Defra. Climate change, and pests and diseases will need to be considered as part of this advice.

Woodland creation could in places be through rewilding, and the use of natural regeneration for restocking needs to be used more, especially in ancient woods. However, ELM grants will need to focus on the long-term outcome more than the delivery process. Woodland creation can be slow, it needs patience and a consistent approach to management over many years.

Rewarding multi-objective woodland management - Small woodlands can deliver biodiversity, wellbeing, amenity, and economic value.  We believe better management of our existing woods, more small woodlands and greater connectivity between our existing woods could make a significant contribution to realising the ambitions of the England Tree strategy. Coppicing is a useful management tool for small ancient woods, but deer management at a landscape scale may be necessary. ELMS needs to be sufficiently flexible and tailored to deliver a range of different silvicultural options and interventions as well as supporting protection of habitats at the landscape scale.

Simplification and proportionality - The key to getting more small woods into positive management under ELMS will be to ensure that the scheme is simple and straightforward to apply for and is well supported by the Forestry Commission and Defra to ensure a high take up.

Countryside Stewardship suffered due to complex and time-consuming bureaucracy and red tape, with woodland owners also being unclear what they might get in terms of financial support at the end of the slow management plan process. There appeared to be a threat of penalties if well intentioned work did not go to plan. This proved to be a disincentive to owners of small woods.

The process for approved woodland management plans for smaller woods need to be more user (woodland owner) friendly. It needs to be easily understood so they can be implemented without the need for external consultants. Support for woodland management planning should be a two-way process. The plans must benefit the woodland owner and deliver their objectives, but the process should also allow government departments, such as the Forestry Commission, to encourage and influence future woodland management and to deliver public goods. There is not necessarily a one size fits all approach for land management plans.

Ideally, all woods should be managed to the UK Forestry Standard but this is harder to apply to small woods and lotted woods, who often do not employ forestry consultants to support management. New woodland owners in particular need advice and training if they are to understand how to approach the risks and responsibilities inherent in managing a woodland.

Growing demands on forestry and woodland owners there is a danger that the new ELMS schemes will ask a great deal of woodland owners for insufficient incentive and do so with increasing complexity. For example, the various public goods have included:

These are not always aspects from which the woodland owner will benefit themselves, even though the owners may be required to make significant changes in the way they do things. This will need outside support, advice, and assistance, plus incentives if these public goods are to be delivered. We are looking for behavioural change that still supports the woodland owners' objectives but also delivers at a landscape scale.

From our recent workshops there appears to be a willingness for woodland owners to work collaboratively, given the right support.

This chart shows the responses at our workshops from participants about working collaboratively.


Tree health, pests and diseases are significant issues for many woods that need to be tackled at the landscape scale with collaborative working. The ELM grant scheme and management plans need to be flexible, practical and sufficiently tailored to be able to respond to these and climatic events such as storms, floods, droughts, and fire.