Review of land managed by Forestry Commission Scotland (2004)

Reforesting Scotland's response, February 2004

Preliminary Statement

All forestry should aim to deliver Quality, Diversity and Flexibility. Forests should produce high-quality timber and high-quality habitats, as well as other benefits. Forests and the forest estate as a whole should be diverse, with a wide range of species (broadleaves and conifers), less dependence on Sitka spruce and greater emphasis on alternatives to clear-cutting. There should be a major move away from uniform species and age-class forest blocks, unthinned forests and 30-year rotations. Forest management should be aimed at producing high-quality sawlogs - low-value small roundwood should only be a by-product. All forests should deliver significant recreation and conservation benefits, rather than these being concentrated on specific "honey-pot" forests. This will result in a more diverse forest, better able to cope with the vicissitudes of the international timber market.

The commercial, timber-producing operations of Forest Enterprise Scotland cost the tax-payer £15 million each year. Due to the low quality of timber we produce (a result of policy mistakes which NGOs have campaigned against for several decades) this is likely to continue for some time. FCS is at last realising that the collapse in prices of low-grade softwood "..may represent a structural shift in prices rather than a short-term price shock." (p32). We can hope that this implies an acceptance that maximising softwood volume production, at the expense of timber quality, was and is a mistake. The £15 million subsidy is effectively a subsidy by tax-payers to the forestry and timber industry. This is only a small part of the total annual subsidy by tax-payers to the industry - many millions are paid for road and infrastructure improvements and repairs, and more is paid in the form of direct grants for expansion of timber processing plants. Such subsidies should only continue only with explicit approval of the government and a clear rationale explaining how they deliver government policy cost-effectively.

Labour productivity in large-scale board and pulp/paper industries using low-grade timber has increased, leading to a dramatic decline in forest industry employment (by approximately 25% in the last 10 years). If policy is to stem economic decline and loss of employment in rural areas, it is essential that Government supports small-scale local businesses, which deliver employment much more effectively than large mills. Village-based wood-fuelled heating schemes are one example of such appropriate industries, and one which the government has failed to support adequately, due to a concentration on large-scale businesses. In the longer term, higher quality timber will allow development of more local timber processing and manufacturing businesses, adding value locally and creating local jobs and vibrant local economies.

At the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (in Johannesburg in 2002), the UK government committed itself to the WSSD Plan of Implementation, including the following statement (Clause 43(h)): "..to recognize and support indigenous and community based forest management systems to ensure their full and effective participation in sustainable forest management." This is a clear and unambiguous commitment to support community woodlands. We encourage FCS to demonstrate explicitly how they are fulfilling this commitment.

All State forests managed by Forest Enterprise are certified under the UK Woodland Assurance Scheme. UKWAS requirement 7.3.1 states: "Owners/managers promote the integration of woodlands/forests into the local economy." FCS must demonstrate explicitly how they are fulfilling or plan to fulfil this requirement.

Summary of questions

Question 1:

We propose a vision for Scotland's national forests. This is that they will benefit everyone in Scotland, promoting vibrant and healthy communities, enriching natural environments and creating opportunities for economic development. Do you agree with this proposed vision? If not, what changes should be made?

Add "Éand employment" after "..economic development". Increases in labour productivity in large forest industries have led to a dramatic decline in employment. Other approaches, especially small-scale local businesses, which are more effective at delivering sustainable employment, need to be encouraged.

Question 2:

Should Forestry Commission Scotland do more to encourage local community involvement in the management of national forests? If so, how?

Yes. Scottish Executive should donate state forest land or sell at below market price to community groups willing and able to manage it. FCS should fund work to encourage and support the establishment and development of community groups able to manage forests.

Question 3:

Should local communities be able to purchase or lease woodland (or other national forest assets) that are not identified as "surplus"? If so, what criteria should apply?

Yes. Local community groups should be able to identify appropriate areas of forest land and take control of these through ownership, lease or management agreement as the community feels appropriate.

Question 4:

Should Forestry Commission Scotland seek to provide new opportunities for recreation in national forests in and around towns and cities? If so, how should priorities be set?

Yes. This should mainly be in existing state forests. All forests close to urban areas should have public recreation as a high priority. There may occasionally be a good case for the purchase of forests or land to be afforested near urban areas, where, for instance, this would protect greenbelt and maintain it for public access.

Question 5:

Should Forestry Commission Scotland undertake a number of large-scale, long-term environmental projects (such as forest landscape restoration, or water catchment or wilderness projects) on the national forest estate? If so, how should priorities be set?

Yes. This should be done in collaboration with other land owners. Such projects should have multiple benefits, including timber production based on ecological management principles.

Question 6:

Should Forestry Commission Scotland become more ambitious in its environmental work on the national forest estate, including - in particular - delivery against Biodiversity Action Plans, improving the biodiversity of conifer forests and enhancing the contribution that national forests make to Scotland's landscapes? If so, how should priorities be set?

Yes. Environmental improvements such as these have also been shown to have significant economic benefits, through, for instance improving water quality and stimulating tourism. Priorities should be set in accordance with the concerns of relevant NGOs and government agencies.

Question 7:

Should Forestry Commission Scotland do more to recognise and conserve the cultural heritage value of the national forest estate? If so, how should priorities be set?

Yes. Priorities should be set in accordance with the concerns of relevant NGOs and government agencies.

Question 8:

What emphasis should be given to the strategic role of national forests in the supply of timber to Scotland's wood processing industries? What are the priorities?

FE should guide the forest industry towards long-term sustainability (economic and environmental) rather than respond to industry's demands for "business as usual". The emphasis in forest management and timber production should shift towards quality, diversity and flexibility. This will result in, among other things, an increased production of high-quality sawlogs, a resource which will stimulate the development of a diverse and sustainable processing and manufacturing industry.

Question 9:

Should sustaining and developing local economies be a key objective for the management of national forests? If so, how should this be done?

Yes. Forests can provide a motor for rural regeneration. Local communities should be given a greater say in forest management and timber harvesting and marketing. Contracts should be broken down to smaller sizes compatible with small, local businesses. Scottish Enterprise/HIE should make funding more available to support the establishment of local businesses. Higher quality timber will be a useful raw material for local processing and manufacturing businesses.

Question 10(a):

Should there be a more dynamic approach to the size and distribution of the national forest estate?

Only in response to the needs and wishes of local communities.

Question 10(b):

In what circumstances should land be added to the national forest estate? What criteria might be applied?

See answer to Q4

Question 10(c):

In what circumstances should national forest estate land be sold? What criteria might be applied?

Only in response to the needs and wishes of local communities.

Question 11:

In what circumstances should there be a radical re-appraisal of management options in national forests, for example in relation to wood production objectives?

This has been necessary for some time and is essential now.

Question 12(a):

Do you have any views on the creation of a challenge fund for special projects aimed at significantly increasing public benefits from the national forest estate?

Challenge funds are time-wasting and distort priorities. They will not assist in delivering good forest policy.

Question 12(b):

Should this be funded in part by any ring-fenced income derived from the sale of national forest estate assets?

No.

Question 13:

How should Forestry Commission Scotland take forward its approaches to working in partnership in order further to develop the national forest estate?

Partnerships with community groups should be arranged so that as far as possible (and to the extent that they wish) the community groups are lead partners.

Question 14:

How should the national forest estate be used to take forward wider Executive priorities, for example in relation to renewable energy, rural housing, health and tourism?

There is a need for greater joined-up working by FCS and other parts of government in delivering wider government priorities. FCS should devote appropriate resources, including land, towards delivering them through partnerships.

Education should be included as one of the priorities. Opportunities should be taken to explore links with existing primary and secondary curricula and using state forests as a resource for these links. Children should also be introduced to practical work in the forest, as happens in a number of other European countries. Community woodlands are ideal places for this to happen and indeed already carry out a great deal of educational activities.

Question 15:

How should we ensure that everyone is aware of what Scotland's national forests have to offer?

It is important to develop a sense of pride in, and understanding of, forests among people. This can be achieved through involvement of community groups, NGOs and individuals in planning and implementing forest work.

Question 16:

Given the long-term nature of forestry, the proposed vision will largely be delivered through gradual, evolutionary change. Is there a need for a more rapid approach to bring about some elements of the vision and, if so, what are they?

Restructuring of FE, disposal of forests to community groups and planning for improved management to deliver higher quality timber and forests should happen quickly. Changes in forest management should start very soon. Immediate action is needed to deliver long term improvements in forest structure and timber quality.

Children and young people are the future custodians and managers of our forests and so an early understanding of and rapport with forests. There is a need to redress the loss of land-based skills which has arisen through mechanisation and rural depopulation.

Question 17:

Is it useful to try to express the proposed vision in more detail, perhaps quantifying the size, mapping the geographical distribution and describing the nature of Scotland's national forests at some date in the future (say 2025, or 2050)? If so, how should this be done?

No. This is a waste of time and resources. What is needed is a set of statements on which forestry and forest management will be based, which may include figures, such as the target of 25% of Scotland forested by 2050 (from the Preface to the Scottish Forestry Strategy).

Question 18:

What approaches might be adopted to strike a balance between local and national interests?

National priorities form the context for local decisions. Once proper policies are in place, and are being properly implemented, conflicts between them are unlikely. Approaches which deliver many policy aims should be encouraged - community woodlands are extremely effective in this.

Further information

Further information and documents relating to the review are available from the Forestry Commission Scotland website

Go back to the top of this page