Commercial conifer proposals for Forestry Grant Scheme: EIR release

Information request and response under the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004.

Information requested

1. Can you let me have copy of the ‘minimum required assessment’ methodology you require of commercial conifer proposals for the Forestry Grant Scheme, including, for example, landscape/visual, species, habitats, water, cultural features, community involvement, traffic, cumulative impact.

2. Of the 729 commercial conifer schemes consented under the Forestry Grant Scheme since 2015 how many have required:

  • Bird and other species surveys (min 12 months)
  • Site-based baseline species assessment for species identified on schedule 5&6 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act
  • Peat surveys based on the approach identified in the Scottish Governments Guidance on developments on Peatlands (2017).

3. How many of the 729 sites have required an impact assessment for:
a.) Cumulative Biodiversity loss (flora & fauna), including

  • The fragmentation of habitats
  • Reduction in species over time
  • Potential for local population extinction
  • Acidification of water courses

b.) Incremental risk of the additional commercial conifer forestry on the Scottish Government’s 2050 target to meet natural carbon sequestration reductions due to potential impacts from pests and diseases (individual and cumulative) e.g. Ips Typographus.

As the information you have requested is ‘environmental information’ for the purposes of the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004 (EIRs), we are required to deal with your request under those Regulations. We are applying the exemption at section 39(2) of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA), so that we do not also have to deal with your request under FOISA.

This exemption is subject to the ‘public interest test’. Therefore, taking account of all the circumstances of this case, we have considered if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exemption. We have found that, on balance, the public interest lies in favour of upholding the exemption, because there is no public interest in dealing with the same request under two different regimes. This is essentially a technical point and has no material effect on the outcome of your request.


1. The Woodland Creation Application Guidance sets out the process for the development and assessment of woodland creation projects. Stage 3: Assessment on page 18 summarises the standards that woodland creation proposals are assessed against.

The specific requirements are mainly as set out in the UK Forestry Standard and under Environmental Impact Assessment regulations and guidance. In terms of specific issues, such as the example topics highlighted, these are covered in detail within the individual UKFS chapters on Landscape, Biodiversity, Water, Historic Environment, and People.

In some areas more detailed forest polices or guidance have been published and assessment against these documents would be carried out where relevant to the case being considered, for example:

Cumulative impact is considered as part of the EIA screening and full assessment process. I have attached our Environmental Impact Assessment Staff Procedure, which covers the assessment of cumulative impact under sections 1.3 and 1.7.

2. & 3. While we hold copies of Forestry Grant Scheme applications (subject to the retention approach set out in our published Records Management Policy), our current computer systems do not hold the information you have asked for in a searchable or collatable format.

In order to produce it, we would need to undertake a manual review of each individual case file. This would require experienced Woodland Officers or similarly knowledgeable staff to undertake such a review, and at an estimate of 45 minutes per application to review and record, we estimate that this would take around 550 hours of staff time. At 37 hours per week, this would represent approximately fifteen weeks of a full-time officer’s working time. Under regulation 10(4)(b) of the Environmental Information Regulations: “A Scottish public authority may refuse to make environmental information available to the extent that– […] (b) the request for information is manifestly unreasonable”.

The Scottish Information Commissioner has provided guidance that this definition includes requests that: “would impose a significant burden on the public authority […] where complying with it would require a disproportionate amount of time, and the diversion of an unreasonable proportion of its resources, including financial and human, away from other statutory functions. The authority should be able to demonstrate why other statutory functions take priority over its statutory duties under FOISA. If the public authority does not perform statutory functions, it should demonstrate why its core functions are of a higher priority than the statutory requirement to respond to information requests.”

We consider that the diversion of this amount of experienced officer time would meet these criteria, as it would have a significant negative impact on our ability to deliver our statutory responsibility to promote sustainable forest management and our core functions of supporting and delivering the management and expansion of Scotland’s forests in line with the Scottish Government’s Forestry Strategy.

Under regulation 10(1) of the EIRs: “A Scottish public authority may refuse a request to make environmental information available if – (a) there is an exception to disclosure under paragraph (4) or (5); and (b) in all the circumstances of the case, the public interest in making the information available is outweighed by that in maintaining the exception.”

We consider that the public interest in making the information available is outweighed by the diversion of resources required to make it available and the associated impact on the delivery of our core functions.

If you were to submit a refined request for a smaller number of specific schemes, we would again consider that request against the resources required to provide the information. Details of all approved woodland creation cases are published on the Scottish Forestry Map Viewer by selecting ‘FGS Options and Claims’ from the layer list and then ‘FGS Woodland Creation – Options’.

About FOI

The Scottish Government is committed to publishing all information released in response to Freedom of Information requests. View all FOI responses at

EIA Staff Procedures Guidance March 2023


Please quote the FOI reference
Central Enquiry Unit
Phone: 0300 244 4000

The Scottish Government
St Andrews House
Regent Road

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