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Journal

Nursery models




The final quarter of 2023 is looking like a busy one for our small but hard-working team. With a suite of ongoing contracts to deliver. Newly signed contracts to get going on. Things are looking pretty exciting with a frisson of, “oh heck!” at Evolving Forests.


A recently signed contract that we’re just getting stuck into is the nursery models project, a Woods into Management Forestry Innovation Fund piece. The aim of the project: to produce an adaptable business toolkit for start-up tree nurseries.


Joining forces


This one sees us collaborating with Future Trees Trust and DR (The Diverse Regeneration Company CIC). The DR Company focuses on advice and grant funding for rural businesses and organisations, particularly within the farming sector. Future Trees Trust are a not-for-profit UK charity. Around since the 90’s the charity was born of the voluntary collaboration of some of Britain and Ireland’s foremost tree scientists and practitioners from across the forestry sector. Their mission is steeped in research that will ensure make the next generation of broadleaved trees can deliver all the environmental, social and economic benefits that they possibly can.


Nursery project base


Woodland creation is generating significant interest but there is an acknowledged lack of nursery stock to meet demand. The Environmental Improvement Plan 2023 has set a target to increase tree canopy and woodland cover from 14.5% to 16.5% some 250,000ha. This is acknowledged as unachievable from current UK nursery stock. Existing nurseries as well as customers are demanding that tree stock is not imported to fill this gap. Government has stated its aim to meet all UK planting needs from domestically grown trees (DEFRA, 2022).


As farmers begin to transition from the current agricultural support mechanism in tandem with highly aspirational tree planting targets across the UK. It seems there is an opportunity to address a problem. Scratch an itch if you will. And perhaps try to answer some questions, like


“do we need more tree nurseries?”

and

“are farmers even interested in nurseries as a business model?”

The project


Entrepreneurs need to be attracted into nursery production at all levels from large-scale commercial to small-scale community schemes. Nursery production is a unique business model that falls between agricultural primary production on annual, or short-cycle production systems, and forestry type businesses on longer time frames. It therefore often falls out of the scope of “easy” entrepreneurial investments. We will address this by producing the tools needed to give investors confidence in nursery production as a business opportunity.


We will work on a range of scales, with a range of user groups. In doing so we will collate and make available financial, regulatory, technical and business planning information investors need including with:


The agricultural industry – as farmers/tenant farmers transition out of the current agricultural support schemes. The project will provide an opportunity to diversify farming enterprises and utilise interchangeable skills.


The forestry industry – with the technical knowledge of tree growing but not necessarily the knowledge of short-rotation nursery stock production.


Community and local authority groups – looking at more local small-scale nurseries.


Small-scale private – “forest crofter” type businesses and “share forestry/nursery” type models.


International nurseries – looking at nursery models from overseas.


The models will aim to address a broad range of forestry needs. From traditional woodland planting through agroforestry, urban forestry, hedgerow and all woodland types that make up the national forest inventory.


How?


Our approach will be to explore and dissect a range of existing business types across the nursery sector. Using both UK and international examples we will look at how these translate into entrepreneurial and innovative activity. As collaborators we will work closely through the project to bring forestry, nursery and tree breeding knowledge harmoniously together.


Conducting surveys and interviews we will kick things off assessing the needs of potential new entrants to nursery production. This include seed sourcing, production systems, technology, innovation, knowledge, regulation, biosecurity, finance, and so much more. Then we’ll explore how all of this works in existing nurseries. We’ll visit a range of established nurseries of all scales and model types. And from this build up an adaptable toolkit of information and financial models for nursery establishment. This will be pitched at a variety of levels and business structures. A digital portal will be created that allows users to access this information in a flexible way that results in model generation driven by user input.


Nursery models project impact


Aiming to increase the nursery sector capacity success of the project brings with it the chance to contribute to the reduction of tree imports too. As well as the environmental impact associated with imports. Bringing nursery stock into the UK from further afield also carries with it the risk of introducing pests and diseases not currently present here.


Alongside this we hope the project encourages new, excited and innovative entrants into the nursery sector. Acting as an entry point for farmers, landowners, businesses and individuals to tree production and woodland creation the project has the potential to forge future woodland creation ambassadors.


It will create an adaptable business toolkit that will allow new entrants to undertake a realistic appraisal of the business opportunities available. The toolkit will be held online and can be utilised and updated to provide an enduring point of access to the range of nursery business models the project will identify.


What to find out more?

We’re involved in a couple of Forestry Innovations Funds over the next few months. Some ongoing, some new. You can read about them here… Sharing Value Chain Stories, Wood Measure, Integrated Woodland Management Support with Cumbria Woodlands and Sylva Foundation (there is a second phase of this currently underway that we cannot wait to share), Dartmoor’s Future Forests – developing a local woodland economy with The Woodland Trust.





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