In its 2016 manifesto the Scottish National Party reaffirmed its policy objective to complete the devolution of forestry management and to pass a Scottish forestry Act. That process has been initiated by a 10 week consultation period, which will end on 9 November. During the consultation period industry bodies, stakeholders and interested members of the general public may respond on the Scottish Government proposals.
The stated primary aim of the process is to complete the devolution of forestry and to make the management of forestry directly accountable to the Scottish Government.
Currently, management of the national forest estate in Scotland is funded by the Scottish Government but managed by the Forestry Commissioners in the context of UK legislation which is almost 50 years old. Whilst forestry policy is determined in Holyrood there is a concern that its implementation is hampered by a structure and legislative basis that is no longer fit for purpose.
The management of the national forest estate is a function currently performed by Forest Enterprise Scotland (FES) which is a branch of the Forestry Commission. It will be replaced by Forestry & Land Scotland. This new body will initially perform a role similar to FES although the Scottish Government hopes that its remit will extend in time to include responsibility for management of other public land assets. The Scottish Government sees forestry as an important part of its overall land use strategy, with great potential to provide not only economic growth but also social and environmental benefits.
The existing UK legislation contains specific objectives that need to be adhered to when managing the forest estate. The closed list of objectives is considered by the Scottish Government to be too restrictive and not fully representative of current policy objectives. Whilst Scottish Government land policy places environmental and social benefits on an equal footing to economic benefits, the intention is that these should not be mutually exclusive. The consultation paper makes reference to the importance of a guaranteed future timber supply. We therefore expect industry players to be highlighting the importance of a sufficient and consistent commercial timber supply from the national forest estate, including replanting of the trees that processors and end users require.
The other key function of the Forestry Commissioners is to regulate the forest industry, including the administration of grant schemes and regulation of felling and new planting. This role is currently performed by Forestry Commission Scotland. The Scottish Government favours keeping this remit separate from the management function, but sees potential benefits in modernising the regime. The consultation paper recognises the need to meet or exceed annual Government planting targets and the need to speed up the process for new planting approvals. There has been much criticism of the time and costs involved in securing planting approval, and landowners and managers will be very keen to see any measures that might simplify the process.
The consultation also invites comments on future cross-border coordination on forestry matters and it is envisaged that civil servants and stakeholders in Scotland can lead the way in UK-wide research and policy on matters such as tree health and the control of pests.
Click here to read 'The Future of Forestry in Scotland, A Consultation'.