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Making Scotland’s Forestry Bill bolder

For the first time in its history, the Scottish Parliament is legislating on forestry policy. Thousands of our members and supporters contributed to the Scottish Government’s formal consultation process last year through our Stop the Chop campaign and signed a petition calling on the Scottish Government to ensure that woods and trees remain a major priority in policy. We received a lot of support - now we need bold action to match the rhetoric.

Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill

It’s fair to say that as it stands, the Bill is pretty light on detail. It sets out to transfer the powers outlined in the Westminster Parliament’s 1967 Forestry Act from the Forestry Commissioners over to the Scottish Government Ministers. This essentially completes the process of devolving all forestry-related decision making for Scotland to the Scottish Government, and we fully support that process.

Charles Dundas, Scottish Public Affairs Manager, giving evidence to the Rural Economy Committee in Parliament.
Charles Dundas, Scottish Public Affairs Manager, giving evidence to the Rural Economy Committee in Parliament.

Additions to the Bill

There are a couple of little modernisations thrown into the Bill at the same time: the Scottish Government will now have a statutory duty to produce a Scottish Forestry Strategy - a key document in setting out how woods and trees across Scotland should be managed, protected and expanded. The Bill will also put the Scottish Government under a statutory duty to promote sustainable forest management wherever possible. Both of these modernisations are important, but beyond these the Bill simply copies across most of what was in the old 1967 Act into Scottish law.

What could make the Bill bolder?

Include public bodies

Instead of imposing a duty to promote sustainable forest management just on the Scottish Government, what about making all public bodies (like the National Parks or local Councils) promote it too? And why stop there? Why not make it a responsibility of every landowner across Scotland to ensure that their land is managed according to the principles of sustainable forest management?

Manage deer sustainably

While we are talking about duties, Forest Enterprise Scotland is currently amongst the most engaged of Scotland’s landowners in the management of wild deer; a vital woodland species, but also one of the biggest threats to the ongoing health of Scotland’s native trees. This Bill could be used as an opportunity to ensure that all landowners accept a responsibility to manage deer sustainably on their land for the greater public good.

Work with professional foresters

We’d also like to see the formal role of “forester” recognised as a qualified position within the civil service, and a guarantee that the head of the new Forestry Division – possibly titled Chief Forester, similar to the Scottish Government’s Chief Planner - and the heads of the local offices will have a professional forestry background.

What type of management structures would be best placed to deliver on forest policy and regulation?

The future of the Forestry Commission

Last year’s consultation was dominated by the question “what type of management structures would be best placed to deliver on forest policy and regulation”.

Despite overwhelming opposition from us and two-thirds of respondents on the proposal to move Forestry Commission Scotland’s functions in-house to the Scottish Government, this is still the Scottish Government’s intention. This Bill, however, will not directly set up any new organisational structure.

The loss of a dedicated public body devoted to forestry, the loss of an iconic and respected brand, and the reputation and trust that is associated with that is difficult to quantify.

We will be watching closely to ensure that the new division of the Scottish Government is able to keep the expertise of its staff.

The old Forestry Commission’s culture of outward facing engagement and diversification from solely timber production to education, health, tourism and even farming should be cherished. We all need to make sure forestry continues as a key priority of each Scottish Government, no matter what its political make-up.

What happens next?

Members of the Scottish Parliament will soon start proposing and debating potential amendments to the Bill. Along with The Scottish Wildlife Trust, the commercial forestry sector and MSPs from all parties, we will promote bold changes to ensure that Scottish forestry is the best it can be for the future.