The future is looking brighter for Scotland’s woods after an amendment to the Planning Bill was passed on 20 June. Planning authorities must now identify and protect woodland of high conservation value in the form of a forestry and woodland strategy. We’ve been working closely with Andy Wightman MSP to secure the change.

What is a forestry and woodland strategy?

These strategies are produced at a local level, usually as part of the local development plan. They map out areas of woodland which need protection and set out the authority’s policies on forestry, woods and individual trees. They are also used as guidelines for the allocation of forestry grant schemes.

What is the forestry and woodland strategy amendment?

The amendment was introduced at Scottish Parliament by Andy Wightman MSP. Essentially, it makes sure woodlands of high nature conservation value are identified, protected and enhanced.

Policy had already recommended producing these strategies and many authorities already have them. Some even work together to cover the forestry and woodland resource at the catchment scale.

But with other changes to the bill, the need for these strategies – which the Forestry Strategy for Scotland considers vital – could have been lost. The amendment has made them law, ensuring that the current good work continues and expands.

The amendment also goes a step further. It includes provisions to improve forest and woodland resilience to climate change, which will ensure:

  • habitats are well connected
  • variety in species and age
  • no threat from invasive species and deer.

This element was no doubt influenced by the Scottish Government declaring a climate emergency and the proposed net-zero emissions target.

Why is this important?

We know our forests and woodland are important in the fight against climate breakdown. They need expanding on a far greater scale than before. By identifying woods of high nature conservation value, this amendment will help us better protect and enhance them. It will allow us to reap the benefits they offer, including:

  • sequestering carbon emissions and helping us towards the net zero target
  • helping with flood and water management
  • creating space for wildlife and increasing biodiversity.

Provisions to protect trees and woods had previously been included in supplementary guidance, but this option was repealed by the Planning Bill.

That makes this change all the more important – it’s now mandatory for every planning authority to have such a strategy.

What we think of the Planning Bill

We worked on this bill with our fellow environmental NGO colleagues through Scottish Environment LINK.

Collectively, our asks included

  • rights of appeal for communities
  • regulation of inappropriate hill tracks
  • the purpose for planning to include sustainable development. This will make sure proposed Local Place Plans are robust and well resourced.

We suggested a full package focusing on better environmental protections, and addressing public disillusion with the planning system.

While the Planning Bill had the opportunity to address all this, it didn’t fully do so. We have more work to do.

Next steps

We’ll continue to support Scottish local authorities in their work to better protect woods and trees. We’re expecting a review of the National Planning Framework and the Scottish Planning Policy following the bill receiving Royal Assent. Precise dates are yet to be confirmed.

How you can help

We want to make sure these strategies are embedded in policy so we can better protect ancient woods and trees.

Planning policy on trees and woods in Scotland should be as strong as the National Planning Policy Framework in England. Our fantastic supporters played a key role in making those changes happen in 2018 and when the time comes, we’ll need your help in Scotland too.

While we secured a positive change to the bill, we have mixed feelings about the overall result on the wider issues we worked on with fellow NGOs. There is still lots more work to do. Rest assured we’ll continue to press for policy changes but we need your support to do so.

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