At our fringe event at the Scottish National Party Conference, a strong panel touched on important issues as a way of introduction. The audience members were also keen to make their views heard. Indeed, it’s a very exciting time to be part of the forestry sector in Scotland.
Introductions: who’s who and what do they do?
We were delighted to have such a strong panel, chaired by Charles Dundas of Woodland Trust Scotland and formed of:
Jon Hollingdale, chief executive of Community Woodlands Association
Shireen Chambers, director of the Institute of Chartered Foresters
Anne McCall, director of RSPB Scotland
Fergus Ewing MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity.
Each member of the panel spoke for five minutes to set the scene for the event. Jon Hollingdale would like to see more jobs and higher value products generated from forestry, which is a driver for rural regeneration. He also touched on the opportunity provided by the upcoming Scottish Forestry Strategy and the need for stakeholders to engage in this consultation. More on this in future posts.
Shireen Chambers talked about the untapped potential of woodlands which are vital for society. Wood provides energy and thus can help us rely less on fossil fuels here in Scotland. It can also be a building material and last, but certainly not least, woodlands offer social benefits such as health and wellbeing contribution, as well as jobs in the forestry sector.
Anne McCall agreed that while forests provide strong commercial benefits, there are also other benefits that we should focus on. For example, woodlands provide an incredible haven for some birds such as capercaillie, but others may not benefit from woodlands and their expansion, so due care and attention must be given to planting the right trees in the right place.
Fergus Ewing MSP talked proudly about the Scottish forestry sector and the improvements so far, such as shorter timelines for forestry grant allocations. Further improvements are in the pipeline, such as better transport links for timber products, and a potential - very exciting - rail freight transport project.
Each speaker was extremely passionate about Scotland’s tree-naissance and the future of forestry. One obstacle emerged from the discussions: Brexit. Will there be enough funds for forestry and how will these be allocated? How will this affect the future of forestry in Scotland? What is clear is that all are faced with a huge, unprecedented challenge and opportunity.
There’s a saying that the best time to plant a tree was yesterday and the next best time is today. Right now is the best time to make your voice heard so that in the future, forestry can strike the balance between economic, environmental and social aspects and not just be the focus of the minister of today.
The discussion then moved to the highly engaged audience who asked some difficult questions which the panel thoroughly enjoyed. One member of the audience noted that we still suffer from blanket afforestation and deforestation. Backed up by forestry examples from Sweden and Norway, he said that we need mixed forests which can be accessed by the public, but can also be actively managed for timber extraction. The public cannot access many plantations at the moment in Scotland. Another point from the audience raised restocking and how private and public sectors have different approaches, however, tree health and responsible pest management must be at the heart of restocking strategies. A lady from Islay also took the opportunity to thank the Woodland Trust and RSPB for the support offered to her community to plant 4,000 native trees.
What happens next?
The SNP conference ends this party conference season for us. These events contribute to wider discussions and provide a platform for our voice to be heard, helping to ensure our vision is delivered in practice: a UK rich in native woods and trees, for people and wildlife. Swinging the pendulum too far in the direction of commercial forestry won’t provide the kind of policy which forestry in Scotland deserves.
With our sights set on the future, we must also look after the woodland that we have at the moment to prevent further loss and damage.