Natural England stops woodland planting on a shoot

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While it’s OK to plant trees in some places, it seems it’s not OK when you are planning to shoot in your wood.

That’s what  Steven Houston found when he applied to plant small copses on his land in Cumbria. Steven hoped to host small shoots on his farm by planting trees to provide cover for pheasants. But he’s been blocked by Natural England, which has ruled that planting keepered woodland for shooting isn’t biodiverse enough. Natural England says it is not against shooting, that its refusal was based on concern how the shoot would impact nearby wading birds, and the creation of a so-called ‘predator shadow’. 

Part of the letter outlining NE's concerns about woodland planting at Steven's farm

“It’s always been my dream to have my own shoot” says Steven, a Fieldsports member. He ran a small shoot at his previous house.  He wants a family-and-friends 100-bird shoot at his new home.

He wants to plant 15ha of woodland on the 100ha he owns. Natural England turned him down. Among the government agency’s concerns, planting on some of Steven’s land will result in a ‘significant extension of the predator shadow over open land and are of limited value for biodiversity given that they are designed as cover for pheasants and are largely isolated from one another and existing priority habitat woodland … it is Natural England’s view that it would not be appropriate to plant the compartments in question.’

Natural England denies that it is institutionally opposed to shooting sports and the benefits that gamekeepers bring to wildlife. A Natural England spokesperson says: “Natural England has no objection to the planting of trees for pheasant cover if that planting is not detrimental to protected species and priority habitats. 

“Our advice takes into account a number of factors and, in this case, we did not support some of the proposed planting areas due to the presence of breeding waders, peat and priority habitat constraints.”

As for the Natural England official who visited Steven’s farm, he says: “I have a feeling that she wasn’t a shooting person, and there was no looking at how we could carry out the work in a positive manner.”

Natural England points out that it accepted the majority of woodland creation in Steven’s scheme, subject to vegetation survey. Steven says he is not going to seek permission from Natural England but, instead, exercise his statutory right to plant four plots a year of less than 0.5ha which, he says, does not need permission.

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