Convention of the South of Scotland minutes: February 2024

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 26 February 2024.

Attendees and apologies

  • Màiri McAllan, Scottish Government
  • Mairi Gougeon, Scottish Government
  • Pete Smith, Borders College
  • Charles Dundas, Borders Forest Trust
  • Morag Paterson, Communities for Diverse Forestry
  • Andy Leitch, Confor
  • Joanna Campbell, Dumfries & Galloway College
  • Caroline Stuart, Dumfries & Galloway College
  • Gail Macgregor, Dumfries & Galloway Council
  • Dawn Roberts, Dumfries & Galloway Council
  • John Dougan, Forestry and Land Scotland
  • Mark Biggs, Heriot-Watt University
  • George Findlater, Historic Environment Scotland
  • Professor Colin Galbraith, NatureScot
  • Diane Smith, Scotland’s Rural College
  • Euan Jardine, Scottish Borders Council
  • Scott Hamilton, Scottish Borders Council
  • Jenni Craig, Scottish Borders Council
  • Brendan Callaghan, Scottish Forestry
  • Doug Howieson, Scottish Forestry
  • Mike Cantlay, Scottish Funding Council
  • Elizabeth Corcoran, Skills Development Scotland
  • Chris Brodie, Skills Development Scotland
  • David Hope-Jones OBE, South of Scotland Destination Alliance
  • David Ibbotson, South of Scotland Destination Alliance
  • Prof. Russel Griggs OBE, South of Scotland Enterprise
  • Jane Morrison-Ross, South of Scotland Enterprise
  • Dr Martin Valenti, South of Scotland Enterprise
  • Paula Ward, South of Scotland Enterprise
  • Mark Rowley, South of Scotland Enterprise
  • Dr Steven Gillespie, University of Glasgow
  • Rob Dickson, VisitScotland
  • Gordon Smith, VisitScotland

Items and actions


  • 10:30-10:45   Welcome / Review of Outcomes / SG Overview

  • 10:45-11:00   Regional Economic Partnership Update

  • 11:00-12:30   Forestry

  • 12:30-13:15   Lunch Break

  • 13:15-14:45   Tourism

  • 14:45-15:00   Comfort Break

  • 15:00-15:15   Outcomes

  • 15:15-15:30   Forward Look and Close

  • 15:30   Meeting Ends

Start of Transcript

Gail Macgregor

Good morning all. Thank you very much to the Cabinet Secretary and Minister for your attendance here today in beautiful sunny Dumfries and Galloway. It's really lovely to have you and congratulations Mairi on your wonderful news that you’re expecting a baby in July.

Màiri McAllan

Thank You

Gail Macgregor

It’s just wonderful, and as the mother of a 26 and a 27 year old, I can’t tell you what you’ve got in front of you.

Màiri McAllan

All in good time.

Gail Macgregor

It’s just fantastic, it really is. So, on behalf of Dumfries and Galloway Council, I'd like to extend a very warm welcome to you all this morning. This is the ninth meeting of the Convention of the South of Scotland. It's wonderful to be here at Dumfries and Galloway College in this brilliant room which I believe was originally made for mechanics, who put things together and I think that we're here as people that put things together. I'd also like to thank the college for their hospitality and support for this convention. I do hope that members have the opportunity to spend some time in our beautiful region and experience firsthand our rich natural environment and vibrant communities.

I welcome that the agenda today provides time to reflect on the further progress that the South of Scotland partners have made together to tackle the main challenges our local and regional economy faces. Importantly our focus later today on the opportunities for our tourism sector. It's great to have David Hope-Jones here who's brought a breath of fresh air to the tourism agenda, so welcome. He has a plan that is ambitious, builds on our strengths and which is sympathetic to the needs of local communities. It is vitally important. I think we all work together across the whole of the South of Scotland, Euan and myself and other partners, to try and achieve this South of Scotland Tourism Strategy and the goals that we're looking to get from it.

I also look forward to the discussion on forestry innovation, another key sector for the local economy here in Dumfries and Galloway. I'm not going to say much more, because we have lots of very talented, articulate people at the table. So it would be my absolute pleasure to open the meeting and to pass to the Cabinet Secretary.

Màiri McAllan

Councillor Macgregor, thank you very much. Good morning, everybody. It's lovely to be with you at the ninth meeting of the Convention of the South of Scotland. I just want to begin by thanking Councillor Macgregor for her words and to Dumfries and Galloway College for hosting us today. Thanks also for inviting me. Shona Robison, the Deputy First Minister, was very much looking forward to being here. Unfortunately because of other pressing work, she's not able to, but she does send her sincere apologies.

I have joined you previously in a different capacity as the Cabinet Secretary for Transport and Net Zero, but you'll be aware since then we've had a cabinet reshuffle. I've taken over responsibility for the newly formed portfolio for Wellbeing Economy, Net Zero and Energy. Just to say a couple of points on that, firstly, this is the first time that those matters have been pulled together at cabinet level. I think it was very deliberate on the part of the First Minister, because we very much see our pursuit of a growing wellbeing economy sitting side by side with the enormous opportunities that we have in tackling net zero and equally the environmental imperative of doing so as well. I'm hoping that with the new portfolio we can very seamlessly start to pull together the opportunities and together mitigate the risks which are not inconsiderable but definitely surmountable.

Just last week, I had the opportunity - a very early opportunity as this is week 2 in the game - to set out some of my priorities for growing Scotland's economy. I stress growing. I set out some high-level ideas including my desire to foster inclusivity in the economy, tearing down barriers to participation and supporting people to both contribute to and benefit from our economy, supporting our existing high-value sectors of which, of course, tourism is one - and we're going to come on to discuss that today - and also being poised together to seize what I think are the era-defining opportunities in front of us when it comes to net zero. I know from my previous job how much work there is already ongoing in that regard in the South of Scotland. But we can come back to that later on.

I also want to introduce my colleague, Mairi Gougeon, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands, who I'm sure most of you will already know. She's been working in this post for a number of years now. Mairi will lead the discussion on the forestry item that we are due to come to. Both Mairi and I are really pleased to be here today, although I was boasting that I had a far shorter journey to come this morning.

Before we get started, a few housekeeping points. We are not expecting a fire alarm, so should it sound during the event, please make your way to the main exit at the front of the building, presumably the one we came in through. Catering at lunch and on our break will be provided in the same area as this morning across the foyer. We are also being livestreamed as is normally the case. There will be a transcript created from the recording. A link to the publication of the transcript will be circulated before the next meeting. We're also live tweeting with the hashtag SpringCoSS2024.

Now turning to business, can I just ask members please to note the outcomes from the previous convention? These were included in the papers for today, papers 1 and 2. I know in particular that there's a lot of interest in the ‘Gateways of Opportunity’ outcome and that you're keen to see how this will be taken forward. I understand there was a recent letter to the Deputy First Minister, which she has asked me to let you know has been received and is being considered.

With that, I think we can - well, can I first of all ask do any members have comments on any of the points from our last meeting that they wish to raise now or alternatively to do so later on with some of the secretariat team? 

I'm not seeing any hands just now, which will allow us to move to the first substantive item which is an update from the Regional Economic Partnership. I'd like to thank them in continuing to pull together this important update and for what I think is the notable positive progress that is being made.

The REP provides an important service, developing the economy of the South of Scotland. It's encouraging to see that it's reviewing its delivery priorities as, I suppose, we all must to make sure we are continually improving and keeping ourselves up to date and focused. I particularly welcome the continued focus on the three grand challenges as they are described - housing, transport and skills. I'll look forward to hearing more about this today. I know that the REP has also been working alongside colleagues in the South of Scotland Responsible Tourism Strategy. Again the Deputy First Minister and I heard about that at our last meeting.

Anyway, that's plenty from me. I am now going to hand over to Professor Russel Griggs to take us through the update please. Professor Griggs.

Russel Griggs

Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. It's been a busy six months since the last REP meeting that we've done this. It doesn't seem like only a year since the then Deputy First Minister at - we all came here to look at housing. It is about a year ago and we've done an awful lot in that time.

The Regional Economic Partnership has met twice. As you say, we're now focusing on our three grand challenges - housing, transport and skills. I'm going to focus on the housing bit. We'll do transport and skills in a bit. If we don't get housing, transport and skills right, a lot of the stuff that we will discuss at this meeting and others are frankly a waste of time, because our economy needs housing. We need to keep young people in the South of Scotland. We need to have houses for our new businesses. We are losing businesses from time to time that move elsewhere because they've got no - you speak to a local health board. They could easily soak up 160 houses just to start to put the houses in. It's a really, really key issue for us. That's why we decided that out of the REP we would set up a strategic action group which I am chairing.

I have to say what's really pleased me and the team over the last six/nine months as we've been doing this, the positive input that everybody's put in. Everybody understands the challenge. Everything says it's something we need to sort. We've been away speaking to a host of people. The key housing group contains members from the councils, from our RSLs and from Scottish Government. We had a really good catch-up with Scottish Government recently about where we are. We're also sharing everything we do with Highlands and Islands and their housing group. We don't have all the same issues, but we have the majority of the same issues. We can see where that comes together. That's very important.

We're learning a lot. I thought I understood housing. I didn't at all. I now understand a lot more about what keeps houses going. There are some really interesting facts that we'll publish later on this month or next month to do that.

We've spoken now to - it must be getting near 100 people all over on this. Everybody that came to the original CoSS to talk about housing, we've all met. I've met with most of them. Me and Gary and Isabel who have been helping, we've spoken to a whole host of people. We have little groups out looking at housing types, looking at how much land we got. Is land an issue? It doesn't look like it is. Neither really is money an issue. It's a whole load of other stuff. We've learned a lot about the housing system in the region and the real challenges faced by those who aspire to create homes. If you look back in time, our growth of private homes and social housing was exactly going in parallel until 2008. At the time of the last financial crisis, a lot of the SME housebuilders went away. The trajectory forward of our RSLs has been good, but it's the private housing sector that we've lost and we need to get that back again.

Building on the evidence, we are creating a South of Scotland Housing Action Plan. I'm pleased about that. That'll be soon. We've got a little more work to do, but the possible areas of focus include growing our own. It's about construction, growing our own construction and development sector - so we don't have to have a procession of white vans always coming down the road from the Central Belt or indeed from Northern England - increasing real choice for all across housing.

One of the big discussions we've been having is do we need another name for social housing? Because it's not just for people that have social challenges. One of our best entrepreneurs in the South of Scotland, our Frangipane lady, lives in an RSL, because it's a safe - she's got some neurological problems, so it's a safe environment in which she can live. One of the things we have to get away - and some of the private builders are not awfully good at doing this - is sayin it's just ordinary folk. One of my team will tell you, you go out to consultation on some of these things. Communities still ask, how will these people pay for the houses? Will they have work to go to? How can they get to their work? Will they have cars? They're just like normal people. We have created this aura around people that live in social housing that we have to change, because in the end, what we have are just members of the population in the South of Scotland that are looking and make their own choices about where they want to live. There's a load of stuff we can go into that.

Putting the south on the map. We need to get everybody out there, builders and others, to know that we do have a demand and that there's lots of people to do that. I have to congratulate both councils for the wonderful work they're doing in place planning. That place planning is really helping us to identify where the housing needs are in each of our communities and they're very different. Dumfries sometimes needs a lot, New Galloway doesn't. It's about how you get that balance between where they are in the place-planning process that it's going through, that both councils are doing really well, is helping us to do that.

Creating a flexible and enabling planning system. I spoke to Fiona, the chief planner, about this. She said, it's very simple. We just need our planners to become enablers, not disablers. She wasn't saying they were, but she said that's the word that we need to get across that planners need to become enablers. That's about culture. It's also about resource. We do have an issue in both councils about getting planning officers. We need to think more about how we encourage people to do that.

Prioritising our investment, i.e. if we have some cash, where do want it to go? If we have some people, where do we want them to focus on? Could some of our RSLs, for example, become private builders? If they do that, how would that affect what they do? How does that affect our charitable status, all the stuff that we have to do?

Finally, creating the right strategic conditions for development for the flourishing of South of Scotland. I think we're getting those. We've got a lot more businesses coming in. We've got a continuous stream now of companies wanting to come and live here.

We intend to launch our housing plan later this spring. We've already been discussing with Joe Brown and his colleagues in government about how we would get the Housing Minister to come down and be part of that launch. I think that will be good. That will be a very focused action plan, like here are the things we want to do. Each of us in the room will have a responsibility in that. It will be clearly diagnosed what I've got to do, what Jenni's got to do, what Lorna's got to do, so each of us will have a priority in that that we have to go away and do. We know some of the actions will take time. There aren't a lot of low-hanging fruit in this. It is about stuff we can do, but there's stuff we can move along quite quickly. That's where we get to go.

If that's housing, where are we at with looking more widely? Work continues on our other two priorities, transport and skills. We have big issues around skills about - to get our construction in this sector going, we actually need to train people before they arrive so that, when we start to build houses, the people are already here. That's a change in the way we do some of the stuff we're doing, so we're working closely with government to look at how we can do that.

But the REP is providing a powerful forum - and it was nice, Cabinet Secretary, for you to say that - to drive regional collaboration. It is. Euan and I and Jenni were having a discussion with Jane just - we share people now, so it's not just about money. When one of us has a problem that could do with just some more folk, we're sharing folk. That's what we should be doing, working as a collaborative team, the South of Scotland. That's all the stuff we've been doing through our region, lots of stuff. Regional land use partnerships just about to come to where it needs to be. That's been really interesting in the amount of people that have turned up to do that.

I guess all I would say back to both of you is we've had a lot of conversations over the last year, 18 months with government about where regional planning is going. We had a really good presentation from a young lady - two REPs ago, can't remember - two REPs ago on where that was going. It was really good on what we could look at and where the government was looking on regional - taking that to some sort of fruition by government would be really good so we understand where's the place of Regional Economic Partnerships in that, because at the moment, we're an unconstituted body that does all this work. I'm not saying that's what it shouldn't be. But if we're going to write to you and ask for things or write to others to do things, then we need some sort of composite, if I can put it that way, of what to do.

I think that's all I really want to say. Is it? Oh, right. Today's Convention of the South of Scotland, we are - yeah. I suppose our formal message to you is for you to welcome the work that we're doing on housing. It really is - it's going, interestingly, very well. Carry on committing to being part of that collaborative approach. It's been really encouraging how much officials from the Scottish Government have been and being part of that. Yeah, so I think that's me. Thank you.

Màiri McAllan

Thank you very much, Professor Griggs. That was a very helpful overview. I think it's very instructive for me to be a fortnight in my new role and to be able to come here and to basically absorb everything that you're all going to tell me today. It's always pleasing when what is repeated back to you by a forum such as the Regional Economic Partnership is exactly what you have been trying to focus on in the last couple of weeks and what others have been telling you as well. It's lovely when things all come together.

I think what you've identified are - what I think are your major areas of focus are three areas that can be major pull factors on economic development and major push factors depending on whether they're done well or otherwise. Housing, transport and skills can be, done well, key enablers of economic prosperity. But equally it can go the other direction if not done well. I would add planning and regulation into that as well. I note your comments about planning and resources and the need for, I think, the best most streamlined process that we can possibly have.

Interesting, your comments on housing. Land availability is not necessarily something that I would have thought would be a concern in an area like the South of Scotland. Very interesting to hear that that is the case. Funding, of course, as well. Your comments about replacing something that was potentially lost in the aftermath of the crash I think is very interesting and potentially an opportunity to do community wealth building as I think you were alluding to. Note your points about narrative and semantics and how we present for whom social housing is there. That's certainly something that the government can work on. I think you reminded us as well about disparities within region as well as between the region and the rest of Scotland, so thank you for that.

Finally, I think the point about pulling resources is one that I'm increasingly keen to understand more about in my new role. Obviously the REP is an example of how that's already happening, but all and every way in which we think that could be done better I'm always very interested to hear about. Thanks, Professor Griggs.

I might ask Ms Gougeon if there's anything you wanted to add to that. A number of those things cross into your portfolio. If anybody else wants to come in as well on the comments from the REP, please.

Okay. Thank you, Professor Griggs. We will move on to our second substantive item but the first significant discussion that we're going to have today. To take us into that, I'm going to pass to Ms Gougeon on the forestry part. Thank you.

Mairi Gougeon

Thanks very much, Màiri. I'm absolutely delighted to be here with you today and also really pleased that forestry is on today's agenda because, of course, the South of Scotland is an extremely important region when it comes to Scotland's forests and woodland. Our woodland cover in Scotland currently sits at about 19 per cent, but across the South of Scotland, that averages about 26 per cent as well. I think in Dumfries and Galloway, it's about 27 per cent and the Scottish Borders, 21 per cent. I think the important role that they have here is very clear.

Of course, you'll all be aware that the Scottish Government has a very ambitious agenda to tackle the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss. A central pillar of our response to these emergencies that we face is ultimately to maximise the rate of woodland creation. Of course, that is something that we can only hope to achieve by the public, private and third sectors working together to try and deliver that. I think that's an area where the South of Scotland plays a really vital role.

Now as part of these efforts and because of their important role in generating benefits for the economy, jobs, sequestering carbon quickly to help meet net zero targets, we want to see that area of productive forest grow. But we also, at the same time, want to increase the area of native woodland that we see, too, to help improve our overall biodiversity as well. I think the wider public and community benefit that we get from that is absolutely clear, whether that's in terms of the work and the business opportunities that exist through forest and woodland creation, but there's also the educational aspect, tourism and not to mention our overall health and wellbeing and the benefits from that too.

But, of course, in all the positives that come with woodland and forest creation, it also does bring its challenges. I think the decisions that we make now about how we use our land will have lasting and significant impacts going forward. That's why our discussions are so important. It is also why it's really critical that the decisions that we take, we get these right. We want to make sure that we listen to our communities, that we involve them in that process as we go forward. We're looking at these areas of land to identify for that. We also need to make sure that our land provides those shared benefits whether that's for public, private and community interests too.

As many of you will know, how we can all contribute to maximising woodland creation in Scotland was the subject of a summit that I'd hosted towards the end of the year last year, which brought together delegates from across the forestry sector. That included environmental and community interests too. I think we had about between 70 and 80 different representatives there. Over the coming weeks, we'll be working with Scottish Forestry and the key stakeholders who attended that to take the learning and the key areas that came through that summit to then come forward with a route map to deliver on those actions that we talked about there.

I know, of course, that financial support for these ambitions and the actions that we want to take is important. There's no getting away from the fact that we have faced a hugely challenging budget this time round. That, of course, has meant a significant cut to the capital budget for forestry, which I know is not a place that any of us wanted to be. I know how very disappointing that has been for the sector as well as for ourselves too. Again it's not a situation where any of us wanted to be. However, I think what is really important for us now is that we maximise the funding that we do have and ultimately make sure that we're getting those trees in the ground. Scottish Forestry is currently assessing the implications of that draft budget for woodland creation. They're already engaging with stakeholders to work out how we are going to get the best from the allocation that we do have.

But, of course, I do think that we have an awful lot of experience to draw on. We've also had the experience from the, when we look at the Forestry Grant Scheme, some of the changes that we made to that over the course of last year. There's also the work that Scottish Forestry has been undertaking and the ongoing improvements they've been doing in relation to staff training and using specialist teams to deal with some of the more complex applications they receive. Alongside that, we're going to consider the responses that were made to the recent consultation that we had on the Forestry Grant Scheme to really try and assess its effectiveness in targeting the right priorities and areas.

I know that picking up on some of these themes, SOSE and partners have developed a paper for discussion today about how woodland creation efforts in the South of Scotland can be improved. We're going to get more information on that paper in a moment from Dr Martin Valenti who's the Director of Net Zero, Nature and Entrepreneurship at SOSE. But before that, I just want to thank Andy, Charles and Morag for joining us today. I'm also really looking forward to hearing your perspectives on the different aspects of forestry in the region after Martin kicks us off. With that, I'll hand over to you, Martin.

Martin Valenti

Thank you for that, Cabinet Secretary. Thank you to CoSS members for the opportunity to discuss this important item. A big thank you to Jayne Ashley who's sitting behind me here, our Head of Natural Capital, for pulling together this paper with members from the CoSS family. It's really appreciated and a very collaborative effort.

At the last CoSS, we agreed that the South of Scotland is Scotland's Natural Capital Innovation Zone. I hope you all remembered that, because it means something. This provides us with a safe space for collaboration, that we can work together on important topics such as today's topic which is forestry. No one in this room is going to doubt me when I say that forestry's a critically important sector for Scotland.

I want to start by acknowledging what the Cabinet Secretary already said is that we're considering this in a nature and climate crisis, so we can choose to run away and hide from the problem like other politicians are doing in other parts of the world or we can run towards it with the solutions. I think that's where we should be going. I'm looking at Charles nodding there, so I'm in safe space here. It's also to acknowledge that - let's be realistic. In spite of the great efforts that's been done by the forestry sector, every part of it and everyone and everybody, to the great efforts that we tried, there's still so much we need to do. We have a long way to go, but it doesn't scare us. I should use a Glasgow word. We're not feart of the scale of the challenge. It just makes us more focused.

We know that sustainable forest management offers multitude of economic, environment and social benefits, job skills, training, tourism. I'm looking at David over there and I know your conference coming up soon. I should plug it, shouldn't I? In Easterbrook Hall in Dumfries. Is it March the...

David Hope-Jones


Martin Valenti

Twentieth. Just thought I'd get that in there. A big focus for that will be about natural capital, so I'd just plug that.

The portfolio alignment of Wellbeing Economy, Net Zero and Energy in my view presents the perfect opportunity to focus on the economic opportunities, not just managing the problems. Lots of people will be circling wagons when Scotland needs to be pioneering. I think that's a key message for today and the Cabinet Secretary said that very point. Today we're going to hear a lot about the benefits of collaboration to unlock the opportunities and we already know that we can do great things when we collaborate. You just need to look at the whisky sector and the energy sector. I am old enough to remember, at those times, that seemed like a daunting task and a mountain that was just unachievable. Well, we did it. We can do even more. But it is a challenge that we need to collectively accept, but the benefits will outweigh the effort. I guarantee it. The benefits will be significant on numerous levels, especially for the local, national and this regional economy.

To help us today, I'm delighted to be joined by three fantastic speakers who are just sitting right there, looking at me. The three speakers are going to speak about their experience and their extensive expertise coming from different parts of the forestry sector. Without further delay, if that's okay, I’ll just.

Mairi Gougeon

Oh, yeah.

Martin Valenti

Andy Leitch, I think, is going to go first. Thank you, Andy.

Andy Leitch

Right. Okay. Thanks very much for inviting me this morning. Just to give you a bit of background about myself, I'm currently the Deputy Chief Exec of Confor which is the Confederation of Forest Industries. That's a UK body that represents the whole supply chain. But that's only been for the last four years. Previous to that, I was 30-odd years with the public sector, latterly with Scottish Forestry where I was the policy advisor for economic growth. During that time, I was also advisor to Scottish Enterprise and HIE on economic growth in forestry. It's very pertinent to come along, I think, today to have a discussion. I'm going to focus on wood production and wood processing in the area.

I'm going to start off firstly saying - others have said it. Please let me just confirm South Scotland is the engine room of wood production and wood processing, not just in Scotland but mainly UK as well. You've heard from Ms Gougeon where she was saying that it's about 27 per cent coverage in woodland. About 30 per cent of that actually goes to the market in the UK.

The slide I have here in front of me just now, so if you look at my left, what I'm looking at which is the column chart, that's just a prediction of wood availability in South Scotland over the next 25 years. Starting from the left, that's currently this year and the last couple of years. We're sitting at two million cubic metres. That's forecast to almost double the next 20 years to four million cubic metres. That's a lot of wood fibre that's going to feed the engines. It's going to feed construction. It's going to feed paper, et cetera. We have to make sure we've got infrastructure to deal with that.

On the right-hand side, the green line is basically the same column. It's just in a linear fashion. But very importantly the blue line there illustrates the demand from the current wood-processing sector in South Scotland. They're already using over two-and-a-half million cubic metres, so there is a gap of what's available in South Scotland and what they're using. That's currently being imported from North England, Argyll and Central Scotland. Once we get to 2031, we're in a potentially self-sufficient situation and for the next 10 years, we've got surplus, which might attract additional investment. But remember - I appreciate we're in South Scotland. It's very important. But those lines don't mean anything to the market. Timber moves up and down Scotland and across the border, but there potentially is material there that would attract investors or additional investment from the current wood-processing sector.

The big issue is where that line goes from 2038 I think it is. It goes downwards and therefore investors are a bit concerned about, uh-oh, if I put my money in now, where's that wood going to be in the future? We have - and when I say we, I mean the royal - the actual timber industry. I've been working with Scottish Forestry, et cetera. We have just commissioned a 50-year forecast to give us an indication of where that's going. That will enable investors to make more informed choices.

Just a few facts and figures about the timber industry in this area. As you've already heard, it actually provides a fantastic backdrop for a thriving, sustainable wood supply chain, but it also provides a backdrop for a really vibrant tourism sector. You're going to hear more about that this afternoon. I was going to say a lot, but then I was told, no, that's being covered in the afternoon. But it's really important to understand that production in forestry can create a backdrop for tourism as well. It can work hand in hand. That's very, very important.

I've already talked about the 3.8 million and I've also spoken about the type of companies, but I think it doesn't do any harm to reinforce that. We're going from nurseries who grow the plants right through forest management companies, the people who harvest the timber, the timber haulage companies, the wood processing and all the contractors and ancillary people around that. You're talking about maybe 5,000 well-paid, secure jobs associated with this industry in the South of Scotland. There's opportunity to grow, but there's also a threat to lose those jobs if you do not sustain the timber supply. That has to be the issue we have to be concerned about in this area.

These companies have invested a lot of their money over a number of years. I've just put an example there. The actual processing sector's invested £300 million in the Lockerbie [unclear] in Dalbeattie over the last few years. They have plans to invest another 150 million in the next 10 years in added value, et cetera. But that 150 million, they're thinking, will we do it or will we invest it somewhere else if that timber's not going to be available?

The material they do produce, as I say, it feeds all sorts of markets. Martin will be particularly interested in the amount of timber that actually goes into construction, because the key thing is it's stored in long-term, long-life products. That stores carbons. Not only does it create economic activity, it contributes to net zero. Certainly we're focusing on long-life products as much as we can. But it also goes to panel board, which again goes into construction, fencing, pallets, paper and energy.

We had Russel talk about housing. The local sawmills produce about 300,000 cubic metres of sawnwood a year that goes to the construction industry. Now that's about 20,000 homes, it covers 20,000 homes, so you could use local material if you did encourage the use of it. Maybe we can talk to the council to working with them. I have done this in the past in Scottish Borders. We actually wrote a paper for planning guidance on how you'd use local materials, so what about encouraging people to use those local materials coming from these local industries? We also have a powerplant at Lockerbie there that produces enough energy to power 70,000 homes. They basically burn wood residues, et cetera. Again circular economy, net zero, et cetera.

We talked about transport. We've realised there are challenges in the forest industry. Certainly when the timber wagons are going through the communities, it stresses some people out. We've been very fortunate to have the Strategic Timber Transport Scheme that Scottish Forestry and government have funded over the last number of years. It has taken a bit of a hit, but up to date, we've spent £25 million of that in this area. That's both government money and private sector money mitigating the impacts of timber haulage in rural communities.

Skills, like any other industry, we have a real issue. Where is the next tranche coming from? We're working with anyone we can. We certainly work with Skills Development Scotland. We have an action plan, et cetera. But as an industry, we have a real issue. We've got market failure in some of the training for some of - like the machine operators. It's very expensive. People can't afford it. As a sector, we've put in some money together to create our own skills company. They will address this market failure. We've identified South Scotland as the place to have it. It will be a UK-focused company, but because of South Scotland's being the hub of, if you like, forestry in this area, we're going to put it here. That will happen this coming year.

We very much have a focus on innovation. I could talk for hours and bore you for hours on innovation, but just a few things. As you see, wood is renewable. That's the positive thing about it. But it is a finite resource, so we have to make sure we're as efficient in our use of it as possible. That's where this circularity comes in, circular economy. We do have parts of our supply chain working together so, for example, our panel board sector. That creates all the OSB and things that goes into our houses, but there's more and more recycled wood being used for that. People who maybe have made comment to me about, aye, but your organisations, your companies want to make pallet wood, that's a short-life product - and it is. It maybe has 12 uses. But now we've got supply chains that take those broken pallets and puts them into the panel board, then put into panels. Then it goes into long-term carbon storage. We are thinking about that and we're actively working on it everywhere.

Decarbonising, I'll just use a very quick example. One of three electric artic lorries in Scotland just now - one's in Lockerbie on trial. It's not working very well at the moment, but we've got to pilot it somewhere. Because it has some huge batteries if we're going to take it into the forest, but we're prepared to trial it.

Digitisation, just for time, I'll not go into that. We've got loads and loads of data in our sector and we don't use it anywhere near enough. We've been trying to explore working with some of the innovation centres and things to enable us to make better use of that.

But finally also that's the existing industry. Looking at new green technologies, green energies, et cetera, there's some companies that are, let's just say, looking about. I've been working with them. They're looking for where am I going to invest? Example, we've got a wood fibre insulation plant and we've got a biorefinery. For those of you that are maybe not familiar with biorefineries, that's breaking down wood into its chemical constituents and then reusing it to replace petrochemical-based products. We've got two, three, four companies there. They've got £200 million, £300 million to invest. It's a no-brainer in some ways to bring them here, because you go where the fibre is. That saves you money. But again they're not going to come here if there's a signal that there's actually not going to be the timber here to do that in the future.

That's about the actual wood-processing sector. I thought we'd touch on the woodland planting now, because certainly that was what the CoSS paper inferred to. Again it's this productive forestry is a bad thing and other things are good. Well, it's not. It's all about forestry. That's how we see it.

But I'd just like to use the map on the left here to illustrate what a typical productive forest is now. If you look round the red line there, that red line is the boundary of the forest site. That's our factory. Farmers grow food for the country. We grow wood for the country. Within those boundaries of that factory, the white bits are open space. As far as we're concerned, they're not productive. We're not growing any trees on them, but they do contribute to biodiversity, et cetera. My wife always tells me I'm colourblind. If I look at the top of that map there where there's an ochre kind of colour and you'll see it's spotted around, that broadly is native woodlands, et cetera. That's about 12/13 per cent. We've got about 18/19 per cent open land, we've got 12/13 per cent native woodland in a production forest. That's what a production forest looks like.

The yellow parts and the red parts are other conifers that we have been asked to plant to diversify a forest. Now we don't disagree with that, but actually we do disagree with the speed it's going at. We need to make sure our tree breeding makes these trees grows as fast as Sitka. But again that represents about 15/20 per cent of the crop. That'll take about 50 to 60 years to grow to maturity. It'll give us about 60/70 per cent of the volume that Sitka spruce gives us.

The green part, which is about 53 per cent of the whole factory, is Sitka spruce. Why are we so concerned and focused on Sitka spruce? Because that's what the markets want. The construction industry only wants whitewood. The only good whitewood we grow just now is Sitka spruce. Sitka spruce, we have invested tens of millions of pounds in the last 40 years - that's government and the private sector - to improve its yields and the speed it grows. Now it's - probably you could say, in most situation, it is twice as productive as any other tree we grow. If you don't plant a hectare of spruce and if you want to maintain timber production, you have to plant two hectares of another conifer, so you need double the area to maintain the production if you want to sustain your wood industry. It's really just to get these points across.

On the right-hand side, we’re looking at carbon. This is an excerpt from a report that was done by Forest Research recently. They were looking at all the different woodland types. What are the best woodland types for our net zero? What's going to sequester most carbon and also if you like - what am I trying to say here - so sequester most carbon and also carbon store future for the wood products? I wouldn't obviously put this up if it didn't say that, but the largest and tallest columns - so the tallest column is Sitka spruce, fast-growing Sitka spruce. Why it's so tall is because it's not just about the speed of growth and the volume it does, but it's then the material goes into construction products and it's stored. The next one is fast-growing conifer.

The difference is that quite a lot of these young conifers will not go into long-term storage products. They'll go into fencing, et cetera. But it is about conifers. Again this isn't about native against conifer. This is me more just expressing this is what conifers can do for you and there's an opportunity loss.

The final point I want to make - and as far as this is concerned - is South Scotland is a key player in the UK. The UK is the third largest net importer of wood products in the world. We are very reliant on importing. I'll tell you. That's going to get a lot worse, because the World Bank, et cetera, is forecasting that demand for sustainable wood products is going to quadruple in the next 20 years. That means this country is going to be competing even harder and harder to get those imported timber, so we really have to look at our own timber security. We can decide first, how do we protect ourself? We have to continue to look at wood production, whether it be Sitka spruce or whatever, but that has to be in our mind. Otherwise we're probably going to get - we're going to end up being out of the market. We're going to have to compete with the Indians, the Chinese and the Americans for this material.

You saw after COVID how timber prices quadrupled. Your garden shed was probably worth more than your house because of the price of your timber. That was a result of timber shortages, because Mr Biden put a trillion pound into American infrastructure and loads of the timber went to America rather than here.

How am I doing for time? Okay?

Mairi Gougeon

We're behind time just now. You've got...

Andy Leitch

Okay. Oh, great. Oh, well, right. Okay.

I know I can go on and on. That's the problem.

That's about the wood-processing sector. Jane kindly shared a paper with me. It was at relatively short notice. To be honest with you, I was busy. I was taking some time off, painting and decorating. My hands are still full of paint. But I had a quick look at it. I must admit I didn't quite clock is this about woodland creation or is this about the forest industry in South Scotland? These are my quick observations, as I say, using my experience of economic development. The paper does mention the forestry sector. It says it's important. But actually throughout the paper, it doesn't really follow that through. It concentrates very much on woodland creation which politically might be an important point in South Scotland at the moment. But actually that's a very small portion of the forest resource you have in this area. If I was helping Jane evolve that paper, I would say I would be looking at focusing much more on what is the opportunity from this existing forest estate and wood-processing sector?

We already have two key strategic documents in Scotland. We have a Scottish Forestry Strategy. That's a government document. We have Roots for Further Growth which is government endorsed. It was endorsed a number of years ago. That's the industry strategy for growth. I think we should refer to that in the paper and look at their strategic priorities and try and align both priorities of SOSE and these documents. We very much talk about collaboration. I'm very much up for working with you on that. We feel that maybe we've - we've not been sidelined, but maybe the discussion hasn't been as intense as it possibly should be, because as you've said yourself, forestry is a big thing in South Scotland. Of course, one of the other things is that, in the bottom there, it'd maybe be quite interesting to do some sort of analysis about how much carbon is actually stored in the forests in South Scotland and how that can be maybe increased or managed in the future, working with Scottish Forestry and others. That's on the paper.

But really want to make the point, positively keen to work with you and being given the time. I've put in a list of potential collaborations there. Again industry are very keen to work with you on this rather than being led. We already have existing organisations. We have an industry leadership group. SOSE does have a seat at the table but, to be honest, don't come very often, et cetera. We could make more of that. I should say I'm also the executive to the industry leadership group, so it's quite important we do that. That's where all, if you like, the big guns of industry would focus on the economic activity of the sector.

I've mentioned already - we've done it in the past - could we work with the local authorities to, well, develop planning policies that would encourage the use of materials in construction, et cetera? Storing local trees, local carbon in local buildings. I work very closely with BE-ST which is the Built Environment, Smarter Transition. There's maybe work we can do there, Russel, in your ambition for your housing policy. But I'll not go through all these, but basically the door's open. We're really keen to collaborate where we can.

Martin Valenti

Andy, thank you for that. I looked at Jane. Jane smiled. I don't know if she's smiling to come and help you paint and decorate your shed, especially if your shed's worth more than your house, but that's going to be interesting.

But listen, the offer for deeper collaboration is duly accepted. We're well up for that. I think that's key to part of moving forward together. I think that's really, really exciting, so thank you for that.

Shall we move, I think, now to - Charles Dundas is going to tell us a bit about your experience. Charles. Thank you.

Charles Dundas

Hi. Thank you very much, Martin. Yes, I'm Charles Dundas. I'm the Chief Executive of Borders Forest Trust. We are a third-sector conservation charity. Some people might say what we do is rewilding. We existed before that term. We call it landscape-scale ecological restoration which maybe doesn't trip off the tongue quite so readily, but I think it really describes what we do. I'll talk more about that in a second.

Sorry to any of you who are fans of PowerPoint. I don't have any slides. I'm going to paint you pictures with my words instead. I would like to talk about the native woodland element of this paper and maybe put some of the environmental and ecological context that we are operating in here in the South of Scotland and the role that native woodlands play in the natural capital of the region.

I think we're all well aware of the significant challenge of the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity. Both Cabinet Secretaries have already mentioned it. Martin's already mentioned it. But it's so important, I think it bears repeating. We should always bear it in mind. Climate changes leads to the loss of fragile natural habitats. The effects of climate change increase overall pests and diseases, another challenge to our natural capital. Meanwhile we are also facing the steady decline of overall numbers of plants and animals, which has been going on for generations now, leaving our land less rich, less natural, less healthy and less sustainable.

Professor Griggs, at the start of this morning, mentioned that if we don't get housing and skills right, then we're wasting our time, because the economy depends on those factors. I would like to develop that argument to another degree and say that the economic and social issues that we're talking about are not worth talking about unless we get the environment right in the first place, because both the economy and society exist within the environment and depend on it. If I can be glib for a second, there are no jobs on a dead planet. Unless we get that foundational issue of the environment and the nature that we all exist in right, we are simply tinkering around the edges of everything else.

Now, of course, these are both global challenges, but they affect the South of Scotland even more than other parts of Scotland because of the historic deforestation this region has experienced since the Middle Ages. That means we're already at a natural disadvantage to other parts of the country in facing the challenges that these twin crises bring to our natural capital, because we as humanity have been exploiting nature unsustainably for centuries. Today our semi-natural broadleaved woodlands are reduced to just a scattering of small remnants, fragmented and fragile. The extremely comprehensive Native Woodland Survey of Scotland, which was carried out 10 years ago now in 2014, shows that native woodland makes up just 2.6 per cent of the total area of Dumfries and Galloway and only 1.4 per cent of the Scottish Borders.

We've planted so much woodland over the 20th century. That's where the figures Ms McAllan quoted there, up in the - 20 per cent of the land area is covered in forestry. That goes all the way back to the end of the First World War when the Forestry Commission was founded in 1919. That century of planting have brought us to the position we're at now where, as Ms Gougeon says, 19 per cent of Scotland has forestry on it. But if we look at that national picture, it's essentially one out of every four trees is native and the other three out of four at non-native. They're the Sitka spruce that Andy was talking about largely. We've turned around this historic deforestation pretty quickly, but we've managed it by focusing on fast-growing, non-native productive plantations.

But I think here in the South of Scotland it's worth noting that that 25 per cent, 75 per cent split that we see across the rest of the country, that doesn't represent the South of Scotland. Just nine per cent of the forestry in Dumfries and Galloway is native, which means 91 per cent is non-native. In the Borders, it's even more imbalanced. Only seven per cent is native, which means 93 per cent of the forestry in the Scottish Borders is non-native. I think that's why we see in the recent Regional Land Use Partnership public consultation, the public's top priority for land use change across the South of Scotland was for far more native woodland to be planted. It's an imbalance there.

I think just while I've got you and I'm talking about the Regional Land Use Partnership, the RLUP, I am aware that the current pilot's funding is reaching the end. The ministers will soon be considering what the next steps are for RLUP. I think it's a huge opportunity for us. This allows stakeholders to come together to look at master planning on a regional basis. It's a huge opportunity to absolutely change the way land is managed across Scotland in a strategic way, in a joined-up way, in a collaborative way. But to do that, a huge amount of time, money, investment and resource is going to have to be put into that to change that culture and provide the framework and the opportunities that will bring people together and allow that. RLUPs are a great thing, but they're not cheap and they're not easy. But I think what they're able to deliver could be truly world leading and I'd like to see Scotland at the front of that.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not here to talk down commercial forestry and what Andy has been talking about. We all need paper. Goodness sake, the environmental forestry sector needs fenceposts. We need sustainable local timber. As Andy says, we still import so much timber to our country. I would actually like it to go on the record now that as an environmentalist I am saying we need more productive plantations, not less. But we also need far more native woodland. That balance, particularly in the South of Scotland, is out of whack. You've heard it from the public. I'm telling it to you now as well. We need a more balanced landscape.

That's really what created the Borders Forest Trust in the '90s. It's a community-led initiative. Local people got together, motivated by what they saw as barren hillsides around the South of Scotland, a landscape with native woodland missing from it. They had an ambitious vision. They saw those empty hillsides filled with native woodlands. They saw those ecologies back in balance with natural processes taking the lead.

They set their heart on acquiring a whole valley. Many of you will know Carrifran, our sort of shop window of exactly what Borders Forest Trust wants to do, along the Moffat Water. They acquired it in the late '90s completely bare of trees and, over the last 20 years, have been slowly filling it up with native species. Locally sourced seeds were grown on from friendly plant nurseries. Where local seed sources couldn't be found, we looked for similar trees from similar altitudes or topographies or soil types in the North of England or the Cairngorms. But now, 20 years later, Carrifran is a thriving natural woodland. The numbers of all types of species have increased - birds, fungi, botanics, mammals, invertebrates. You name it, Carrifran has a growing population of it or will do soon.

But the Borders Forest Trust have also grown in that time. From those 660 hectares of Carrifran acquired in 1999, we now own and manage over 3,200 hectares of wild upland land - the Talla Valley, Gameshope Valley, Corehead, the Devil's Beef Tub and now Ericstane North. Across all of these sites, we're planting new native woodland, restoring degraded peatlands, creating new wetland areas, encouraging species-rich grasslands. We call this network of ecological restoration projects the Wild Heart of Southern Scotland.

There are plenty of other charities working in the same way as us - the John Muir Trust, the National Trust for Scotland, RSPB Scotland, Plantlife, Buglife, the Woodland Trust, Rewilding Britain, Tweed Forum. There are so many people working so hard. I don't really want to name them all. Sympathetic landowners like Merlindale at Peebles or Deer Park at Selkirk. There are just too many to list all of them. Yet in terms of the regional picture, it's a drop in the ocean. There's a huge amount still to be done. Most of the land across the South of Scotland is in private hands, so we have to reach out to those private landowners and bring them onboard with the vision of a healthier landscape and a more enriched natural capital.

That brings me on to a new initiative which I know SOSE and NatureScot are working on, which they have actually named the Wild Heart Expansion Project after the work we've been doing in Borders Forest Trust. This is a scheme which attempts to bring in private investment money into private landowners to plant new native woodlands and deliver their investors a small economic return.

I know the Scottish Government are interested in this because it takes some pressure off the public purse. You're getting private money going to private landowners to deliver public goods. Almost feels like a win-win situation. However, as Ms Gougeon mentioned, the current Scottish Forestry capital grants programme does put this innovative programme at risk, because there is less money in the pot now. We're going to have to look much more strategically at how that money is allocated and spent. Ms Gougeon said that you would like to maximise the effect of that money in which case I will make a little bid to say that the Wild Heart Expansion Project, WHEP, is an attempt to bring in fresh money off the back of public money. Therefore it should perhaps be looked at in that strategic context as something that you don't want to fall by the wayside.

Finally, I think I'll say that now that the South of Scotland has been recognised as a Natural Capital Innovation Zone I would like to challenge you to think about what leads to innovation. For me, that's inspiration. If you want to be truly inspired as to how the natural capital of the South of Scotland can be transformed, enhanced and enriched, then I'd like to invite every single one of you to come with me to see the work of the Borders Forest Trust at Carrifran. I'll show you round. You will see what can be done in the relatively short timeframe of 20 years. You'll see that the South of Scotland could actually be a natural capital inspiration zone. That's me.

Martin Valenti

How do you follow that? Well, Morag, you'll be able to do it in a little second.

The one thing I would say is that the continuity from the last CoSS - we had James Oliver speaking about the Wild Heart Expansion Programme, again from Jane and my colleagues here. It shouldn't be ignored. It's pioneering. It's different. It's challenging. Some folk won't like it. It's complex and it's difficult. But that's what pioneers do. They don't follow the path of others. They go and push ahead. I think that's what collaboration allows us to do, to be responsible, ethical, moral. But we need to do it, because we're in the nature and climate crisis.

One thing I also wanted to say, Charles, is that my CEO reminded me, as she does often, is that everything we do - I'm sure you believe this - is about the environment, economy and community. There is no separation of those pots for us. It's all or nothing. We want everything. That's just the way it's going to be for us.

A key point about working in forestry is communities, so it perfectly falls to Morag now to be equally as passionate. I should mention anyone that says Natural Capital Innovation Zone gets extra lunch, so the more that's said. Jane's keeping a tally. The more we can say that, it's fantastic. Morag, over to you. Thank you.

Morag Paterson

Okay. Thank you very much for having me. I'll just get that in early. I'm very glad that we're in a Natural Capital Innovation Zone.

Just because it wasn't in my notes. I'm from Communities for Diverse Forestry which is a volunteer body which started in the north of Galloway where we actually have more like 55/60 per cent forest cover. We also saw a real influx of new schemes coming in over the last four years or so, which communities felt very ill placed to be able to deal with and interact with. We campaigned for more diverse forestry across multiple meanings of that word. That might be about species. But it was also about sharing benefits, diversity of jobs and more local long-term year-round jobs as well, because we do see quite a lot of regionally focused jobs and nomadic workers which aren't necessarily giving us these long-term jobs in the community. That's something I would really welcome some focus on as we look to increase the jobs in the south.

We really welcome this work and that we're having this conversation today. I think it's a hugely positive step forward. But unfortunately, of course, it does fall to me to pull out some of the issues that we've looked at in the paper, the tensions with communities and the general public, and just to flag them up to make sure that we really understand them so that going forward we make sure we're addressing them and, as you said, bringing communities along with the economic and environmental benefits that Charles has already mentioned and Andy on the economic. There are some good examples. I'm not going to pretend there aren't. But at the moment, it feels like they're the rarity rather the norm when we're talking about multifunctional forests that have very wide-ranging benefits for local people.

For me, I feel like we need to alter course slightly and just make sure we're steering the ship in a slightly different direction as we grasp the opportunities we're talking about and also reassess the funding through the - having to look at how the grant scheme's going to work going forward. We've all seen these reports, whether it's in the press or it's multiple reports that have been done by people like James Hutton or the Scottish Land Commission.

There's been a bit of a problem over the last few years where there's been a tendency to dismiss public concerns as a perception issue. It's very commonly trotted out that the public are judging forestry now on what happened in the '70s and '80s. It's simply not true. I can't be clear enough about that. The public are responding to what's happening on their doorsteps right now in some of their very dearly cherished landscapes. There's all sorts of anecdotal evidence about that and there's hard evidence here. I've got a copy of the report on the right if anyone would like to have a look at it. We've seen it through the RLUP consultation as well. One of the things that really bothers me is hearing people, both from industry and in communities, talking about mental health problems as a result of poor consultation in forestry. I think we've got a collective responsibility to make sure that isn't part of the industry's future and that we're going forward in a much more positive manner.

Having said that, there's been some really good work underway. We've been working with Confor on both training for the industry in terms of engagement and we're still just working on a mitigated process to do best practice guidelines, which is a very positive process. I would like to thank Ms McAllan actually for probably helping that process start a couple of years ago. But I think we need to make a very fast move, beyond just adequate engagement, into community wealth building, wellbeing and community benefits and be developing long-term relationships and very integrated ventures, not just talking to the community at the point of needing an approval for an application to kind of tick a box to get past Scottish Forestry. It's quite normal for us not to have a clue who a forest owner or a forest manager is and to only see them at that one time where they need an approval.

It's unsurprising that these tensions exist. We've already seen how much forestry there is in the South of Scotland. These figures are tiny. I apologise for a terrible PowerPoint slide. But it's just basically illustrating how much forestry we have in the south and how much of that is predominantly conifer, albeit with the fringes of broadleaves and open land. But the cumulative impact of this level of concentration can't be ignored. It's a real concern for people, whether it's on wildlife, the environment, acidification of rivers or just rural depopulation is also a perceived issue. Also people are concerned that no schemes actually get turned down once they're brought forward. I think there's been two in over 1,600 schemes. It all builds into the perception for the community that the odds are very much stacked against them as opposed to something they can genuinely interact with.

There's really wide-ranging concerns about the cumulative impacts. I've put a few of them up there. I'm not going to read them all out, because I think you've probably all come across them from time to time. But resilience is a huge one. We've got the bark beetle. We have windstorms. There's a lot of concern about putting all our eggs in one basket with this predominantly one species of tree, albeit I realise it's fast growing and it's very effective and people have bought into it. But that doesn't mean we don't look to the future with our eyes wide open and say, how could we diversify our supplies?

We have schools mothballed in the north of the region where we have 55/60 per cent forest. The school to the north of us in Carsphairn is mothballed. Dalry School in my community is scheduled to be mothballed this summer, straight after the summer break I think. That's one primary school and one secondary school. That speaks of rural depopulation and not very locally thriving communities, which I believe with the existing forest - and Andy touched on this as well. It's not just about new forest creation. With all of that forest, we should be thriving. Our community should be buzzing with forest-based communities and all the spinoff associated businesses to do with that. I'll throw in the housing there being tied into this as an issue as well, which has been flagged up through quite a bit of the work we've done, because if we want those long-term year-round jobs, we need affordable housing in our communities for those people to live in.

At the moment, from a community perspective, it can feel very much like we're working towards targets. That means that all of these other possibilities and opportunities, of which there are many, are sitting way down the pecking order in terms of what is taken into account when we're designing and approving schemes. The economic returns feel very remote when you're not seeing them hardwired into local rural development. We can see the investor returns and the very promising, nice percentages coming back. For communities, I think we'd like to see a little bit more of that landing locally.

Just to give a couple of examples of how difficult it is as a community in these types of conversations around specific schemes, it can take us years just to get gates unlocked on a forest, let alone be involved in a really good co-design proposal or to be talking about getting a community space or a forest school, because there is a bit of an element of people in the forest are a bit of a nuisance in a way. They can get in the way of operations. They maybe might leave some litter. There's a bit of a general culture of not encouraging it nearly as much as we could do.

How do we get from locked gates to fully integrated community forest? That's what we're here to discuss today happily. I think it's really important that we change the narrative away from community versus commercial and broadleaf versus conifer. In my ideal world, all forestry, commercial or not, would be delivering for communities and delivering really well with mutual benefits for everybody. How do we get away from planting the hill and locking the gate to a more long-term active management approach which would also offer local jobs? How do we get from mothballed schools to forest schools? In terms of the adversarial engagement we have at the moment, how do we get from defensive and hostile to mutually flourishing, experiences that everyone can walk into the room with a real sense of positivity and enjoyment and potential which there certainly is?

There's a few bits of work that have been done. I was involved with the SOSE Community Wealth Building from New Woodland Creation study, which hopefully some of you have had a chance to read. If not, please do. It flags up some really good opportunities and across a spectrum of interventions as well of how some of these things could be achieved. The good thing about that is - just checking my time - that it was cocreated by - we had everyone from investment companies to local authorities to NGOs and the communities in the room together. We did a lot of interviews. Then we had a group workshop. There was a really, really positive, creative atmosphere in that room that proves that when we do sit down together we really can make things happen, but obviously we need to get that report off the paper and into reality in the region.

There's Woodland Nation if anyone hasn't read it. It's a few years' old, that report, but it offers multiple pathways to expanding our forest cover, up to 40 per cent I believe, across many different pathways that are very inclusive and diverse.

Then recently this year we also worked on the Community Engagement: Good Practice for Restoring Scotland's Rainforest which again was cocreated by project partners and communities. It very much concentrates on going beyond engagement. How do we give communities real agency in decision making right through that process and long-term engagement with adaptive systems that can be flexible to respond to what happens and move on to the next step?

I'm actually just leaving with a few questions. I think we do need a cultural shift. I do think we're going to need it to come from the very top to make sure that we really get behind this and make sure everyone feels that they've got the mandate and the incentive to bring this forward. We've just got to be really careful that we're not doing little tweaks around the edges, little bits of tinkering here and there and get some really joined-up thinking, creative and imaginative approaches, joint ventures, all the rest of it. We need to know who's responsible? How do we achieve that radical motivation shift and how we offer communities genuine agency? Most importantly, how do we measure and evaluate that and know that we're successful? Because we can try all the things in the world, but if we don't adjust to the results and take them forward, then a lot of stuff can get lost by the wayside.

Lastly, I would strongly urge the room to think about how we roll these changes out across the board in the South of Scotland and not go down the trap of making a few honeypot projects in local places, which make a wonderful series of case studies but business as usual carries on elsewhere. I'd like to see everything that's being talked about embedded across the industry and for all sectors and really to get away from thinking about this in binary terms, which I think is a bit of a problem and really builds into the polarity. My last plea would be to make sure that you codesign whatever projects you do with communities from the very start, not going to think of a great plan and then bring communities in, but make sure they have a seat at the table right from the get-go.

That's me. Thank you. I put links in there in case anybody wants to look up any of those papers later.

Martin Valenti

Thank you for that, Morag. I'm going to pass back to the Cabinet Secretary. I could believe now we've got like 45 minutes at least for some good questions. But my reflection would be is that I heard a lot of commonality. I heard a lot of challenge but commonality. I think rooms like this in CoSS - what's special about this is we can come into this room and metaphorically leave our gun and holsters at the door, talk about some of the issues, because it's only by addressing the issues will we find the solution. On that point, I'll pass back to Cabinet Secretary.

Mairi Gougeon

Thanks a lot.

Mairi Gougeon

For everyone to be engaging in that really proactive way, because it's not a case of what you’ve said, Andy versus Charles versus Morag. It is. As with everything, it's about the balance that we get within that, but appreciating all those points that you've said and just how vital and important the industry is not just to the South of Scotland, though it is hugely important here, but to Scotland as a whole. Looking at some of those statistics that you showed about the import and export and where we are in relation to that, but also ensuring that we are doing that work for biodiversity.

Like you were just finishing there, Morag - and I think your questions were really good that you'd posed to the room in relation to that too. It's about building it with communities at the start. You touched on there are good examples of where that's happening, but unfortunately right now they're too few and far between. It's how we can really embed that. That's where I really welcome the paper that you've brought forward and introduced to the room today, Martin, because as I set out at the start of the discussion on this item, I think it really ties in with a lot of what was raised during the summit that we had towards the end of last year, which I think was really positive in that regard and can really help us feed into that work too.

With that, I'm keen to hear views from everyone else. As we were saying, we've got plenty of time for discussion anyway, so I don't know if there's any questions or points that anyone would like to raise just now. Oh, Russel.

Russel Griggs

I guess listening to everything, including your good selves, there's two things. RLUP and all the stuff around RLUP and I've been to a few of them over the piece. It really opened my eyes about two things. One is just what diverse views there are in this sector across land use generally. But what it really does is you've had people in the room who traditionally would be sitting on other sides of the table, throwing stones at each other, who have managed to sit down and have collaborative discussions and come back to something. I suppose my plea to you is whatever you do with RLUP, don't leave it hanging in midair, because there's a lot of good work going out there. The people want to get on and do stuff. Not all the stuff needs money. It's just about it needs some impetus. It needs Scottish Government to be - and I know Charles is smiling, because everything needs money.

But I think what we need is some impetus to say that Scottish Government wants to continue that dialogue, wants it to go forward, wants it to come up with some plans. That then comes to my second point is about the National Capital Innovation Zone. I've been asked about four times over the last six months, what does that mean? I have to admit, at the moment, I struggle to answer it. I think that's where we need to get - if we're going to do that - and maybe that's where we encapsulate that within the conversations that we're having today.

From my point of view - and I know my colleagues' point of view is we can't let this huge opportunity now that we've been developing, that we've been talking to people - we're on a good curve going up the way, so let's not pause for a while. Let's try and keep it going. I know that's challenging in financial terms, but we've got a group of people who intrinsically and historically wouldn't sit round tables together to sit round tables together and start to plan the future. Morag's right. That's the communities included in that. It's about we're all now talking about the same thing, so for goodness sake, let's not waste that.

Mairi Gougeon

Thanks very much for that, Russel. I think just on the RLUPs point as well, that's where it's been really positive to hear about how that's been operating in the South of Scotland. I think that is exactly the kind of thing that we want to encourage. We've had to monitor, evaluate how the different RLUPs have been operating across Scotland. I think it's fair to say not all of them have been as successful in relation to that, so it's about taking the learning from that process. But I absolutely appreciate your point in that regard. Sorry, I just have - Màiri wants to come in and then I'll get you, Andy.

Màiri McAllan

Thanks. Thank you, Mairi. Yeah, I'm very happy just to offer some comments on the very helpful presentations that we had from my perspective. I mentioned, at the start, this new portfolio that I'm wrestling with with economy, net zero, those just hard-and-fast greenhouse gas emissions reductions that we have to see across the piece. Environment remains part of the portfolio as well and energy, although that's not quite as important to this conversation. But I mention that because these issues are often or have been historically presented as being in conflict with one another, often irreconcilable. I think, Russel, you spoke to the fact that some people occasionally couldn't even come round a table together on some of these issues, but again I just want to stress that I hope that them being together within government will help all of us to try and reconcile them and make the progress that we need to make.

Martin, your point about SOSE seeing economy, environment and society as being in balance I absolutely want to echo. In the Scottish Government, we will always try and find the finest balance possible through for progress without upsetting the balance. I think forestry is a perfect example of how all of those things come into play. Andy was absolutely right to highlight the economic contribution of forestry, something I'm very conscious of, those 3,000 to 5,000 jobs, a billion-pound industry, particularly important in this area. I want to offer the government's support in those new industries that you mentioned - biorefinery, et cetera - if we can do anything to support the development of them. I know Ms Gougeon will want to be involved in that and I certainly can from an economy perspective as well.

I'm also really keen that we keep working to overcome what I always thought were myths in the strength of Scotland's timber in respect of housebuilding and construction. I know that's something you've been working on through the ILG, so again from an economy perspective, very keen to offer support on that. Then again forestry's absolutely central to the net zero work. We know about the commercial production's ability to very quickly sequester carbon, support decarbonisation in construction and again have that economic impact. Whereas, on the other hand, broadleaf and natural regen is absolutely important to everything that Charles was talking about and that lack of balance that we currently have in the natural world.

Couple of things I wanted to mention. Firstly, Morag's points on community are absolutely essential. They become more important when the prevalence of forestry in a region is as it is in the south. How the community feel about land use and land use change as we take on the net zero challenge is absolutely critical. If we don't take people with us, we won't have succeeded even when we do reach net zero in mid-century.

The final point I wanted to make about the paper was it strikes me, with my environment hat on, that the issue of ash dieback is going to be of great importance in the South of Scotland. Given the prevalence of commercial forestry, the importance of that to employment and to the economy, I think something on ash dieback - and again I offer the government's support to South of Scotland on some of the learning and data that we have on that and how we build resilience. Thank you.

Mairi Gougeon

Thanks, Màiri. Andy?

Andy Leitch

It was actually just a minor point about the RLUP. Just to say, as a segment of the forestry sector, we've struggled to get engagement in that process, so it'd be welcome, that opportunity.

Gail Macgregor

Yeah. Thanks very much, Cab Sec. This is a really interesting one for me, because I straddle many areas with this one as a beef and sheep farmer that's looking at food security and reduction of food miles, balancing it with being the Councillor for Lockerbie so understanding the value of economic timber development and production and then, of course, being an environmentalist as well and trying to look at that native aspect too.

I suppose my challenge to myself and to government and to everybody else is how do we manage those tensions between - I think there's about 1,000 acres that have been taken out of agricultural production on the edge of Dumfries in one ward alone for planting. I'm beginning to feel some tensions in Dumfries and Galloway between the agricultural sector and the food and drink which we're incredibly rich with - I'm looking to Mark in that respect - and what seems to be a real shift towards taking really productive agricultural land out of production at a time when we're needing to look at low food miles. That's my challenge, I think, to us all. I think it's an incredibly difficult one.

I think as well that we go to consultation. Dumfries and Galloway Council are statutory consultees on forest planting schemes, but we have no statutory role in approving applications. We don't always have that community buy-in. It's maybe a plea as to where the roles of the councils can sit and the democratically locally elected people that understand their communities, because I do feel that there's sometimes a bit of an imposition that a few hundred acres of land is just simply taken out of agricultural production on the edge of a community. The community don't know about it. They want to see some more native within that plantation. But I'm not sure that we're tying up that buy-in with communities. They understand the need from a net zero perspective, but I'm not sure we're fully engaging with them at the moment. Certainly we don't have a view, which I think is slightly disadvantageous for our communities. That's my tuppence worth.

Mairi Gougeon

Thanks very much for that, Gail. I appreciate the points that you make there too. I think some of those elements you talked about were some of the issues that were raised during the forestry summit that we had as well. Particularly I think across the portfolio that I'm responsible for and having that responsibility for agriculture and for forestry, there's no doubt about it. It is really challenging. I think there's so many other elements we've touched on today, community wealth building.

Also another really important element is land reform. We do want to be in a position where people feel that they don't have any stake or any ownership of decisions on vast tracts of land that are around them. We do want to try and change that as much as possible. I'm sure Brendan will have the statistics as to overall planting on agricultural land and what that actually looks like. Obviously some of that is outwith our control in terms of if people are moving out of farming. Their farm then goes up for sale. There's no opportunity or we wouldn't have the ability to intervene in that. A lot of that for me is about what are we doing about succession, tackling some of those issues, making sure we're getting a new generation of young farmers coming through.

But I also want us to move away from, I think, this either/or approach. I think there's so much we can do about better integrating land uses. We're going through agricultural transformation at the moment, delivering a new framework where we really want to try and encourage and - tenant farmers are a huge part of this as well, ensuring that everybody has the ability to do what is right for their land for their farm, still maintaining that food production, doing it in a way that works for climate and nature as well. But of course, there are challenges within that. None of these issues are easy, but if they were, I'm sure we wouldn't be here and trying to discuss them all. But I think we've been clear throughout the forestry strategies we've had too. It's always been about the right tree in the right place, but I think that's where all the discussions that we've had today are really important, at least trying to work our way through some of the challenges that come through that.

Okay. Jane, you want to come in.

Jane Morrison-Ross

Thank you. I think what's really positive to hear today is the messaging that we've got. It is all about that balance though. We do produce 80 per cent of dairy in the South of Scotland. We have a really important role to play in timber and forestry. There's a real need for woodland creation and for biodiversity and to continue the amazing work that Borders Forest Trust have been doing as well.

I visited James Jones a couple of weeks ago and heard about their plans to create a net zero industrial hub, which is of huge interest to us because it really dovetails with a lot of the work that we're leading on. I met one of the companies that's hoping to be one of the first on that expansion of the site. They are looking at bioplastics. It all comes from wood waste. It's a fantastic example of the circular economy piece. I heard about the electric lorries, less about the challenges. But I heard about what they're trying to do there and what James Jones are trying to do to drive down their carbon footprint and introduce innovation and to increase availability of local timber for housebuilding.

It's not easy. But we do want to reduce imports of food, so we want to grow our own. We want to reduce our imports of timber, so we want to grow our own. We want communities to be at the heart of what's happening so there are more jobs, so there are more families, so that schools don't close. We need the timber to build that affordable housing. Everything is so interlinked and interconnected.

But this communication and this collaboration has got to be key to the next steps to moving forward as has that recognition that the statutory agencies that lead on this forestry work, on the agriculture work and Scottish Government are going to be key in giving us the direction to do that and to work together and to find those solutions. I think if anywhere in Scotland can do this though, it's the South of Scotland. We've got the right people. We've got the right brains. We've got the right inputs. We've absolutely got the right land. This is an opportunity for the South of Scotland to innovate to do something differently with Scottish Government direction and support and to prove that there is a way of getting that balance so we have got that perfectly balanced stool with those three legs of economy, environment and community.

Mairi Gougeon

Absolutely. Thanks very much for that, Jane. Just as Andy was saying though, the electric lorries, it's a pilot, so that's exactly what it's for when it comes to teasing out these issues. But yeah, Euan, you wanted to come in and then Scott.

Euan Jardine

Yeah. Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. For me, what we're hearing this morning is there's a dream being sold of the forestry thing, but there's also a reality. I think that Morag touched on what that reality was and Jane covered it there. I've had emails coming from community councils, one just the other day from Lilliesleaf, Ashkirk and Midlem Community Council. They've had four new woodland creations within the past 12 months. All it talks about for the first, oh, I'd say quite a few paragraphs is about this London-based investment and asset organisation who are investing in these trees, how they've got no ties locally, et cetera. But I've learnt this morning more about that than I could have in that email. What are these communities understanding why these investment firms are doing it? It goes back again to that really assured communications that I just don't think we're getting across.

It also goes on about the access when the deer gates just appearing in woodlands in areas that people have been able to travel for generations. All of a sudden, they can't go. It's how do you bring communities into the dream that you're trying to sell and say actually it all benefits each other. Jane hits it right on the head as always with what she's talking about, bringing everybody together in that circular motion, because if we don't bring the communities, then it's just going to be resistance, resistance. As councillors, we start setting policies. Government, you'll start setting policies that actually go against - and the friction starts. We don't want friction. We want things to continually go in the right productive manner, so let's just sit down - so hopefully today we can take things away where everybody is going through. Thank you.

Mairi Gougeon

Thanks very much for that, Euan.

Scott Hamilton

Thank you very much, Cabinet Secretary. I want to reiterate some of the comments that have been made, particularly Russel's comments on the RLUP. For the South of Scotland to have a resource like that has been incredible. As we've discussed, the process of it, I was asked to co-chair the advisory group. I genuinely did think that it was going to be a challenge that I wasn't going to be up to, but actual fact everybody did come around that table and really wanted to work with us. I was really pleased to see that. I hope going forward that we can utilise that in the future.

I suppose one element - and you alluded to it - was in the South of Scotland we've got one of the highest concentration of tenant farmers. There's an extra layer there which is a sector which feels something's being done to it rather than something being done with it. That whole element of working together needs to come forward on it. There is one element in terms of how, as a council, we can work better together.

One of those that always comes forward is the Strategic Timber Fund for the roads repairs. Now obviously timber lorries, whether they're electric or diesel, they do cause a great deal of damage to roads. That's where a huge part of the communities feel remote and cut off from, because they see their area - they've known what the landscape is and then suddenly it changes quite dramatically. It's a competitive fund. Is there any opportunity from the government coming forward that it might actually be on an allocation basis? We are going to meet this challenge of biodiversity, climate change by planting trees. This region, we've all heard this morning, is going to be an important part of that. Is there any investment or look at that scheme of financing that could benefit the South of Scotland in a way that will be more practical and easier for councils to access? Because we've got the expertise, but it takes the resource of preparing for these bids and schemes to bid into.

Mairi Gougeon

Thanks very much for that, Scott. Although I fully appreciate the points you've made about how important that fund is, I set out at the start and right in my opening comments on the slide. You've seen some of the cuts that we've had to make to the - whether to the Woodland Creation Scheme. It is. It's capital budgets right across the piece and the government that have taken the biggest hit unfortunately. We have tried to protect the Timber Transport Fund as much as we possibly can, but there's no getting around it. It is just really tough at the moment. But it has been so important for all the reasons that you've said, not least for all the timber that is taken off the roads as well. We are again just trying to work the best we can within the allocation for the schemes that we have at the moment. Of course, I'm always open to hearing ideas if you feel like it can be improved. But I'd be reluctant to make any commitments today in relation to that, but happy to follow up with you, Scott, if you wanted to have a further conversation about that. Thank you.

Then I have Martin and then I have Rob.

Martin Valenti

Thank you. It was mentioned earlier is what is a Natural Capital Innovation Zone? I think trying to make the rhetoric a reality - and this is a bit of a scoop for anyone ready to do some scooping - and it's related to funding - is that last year we notionally came up with an idea for a Net Zero Accelerator Fund which was oversubscribed 1,000 times. We gave it all out. The First Minister joined us on Wednesday at Hutton Stone. I'll go into details on that later if you ask me, but it's super exciting.

Colleague behind me convinced me with my arm up my back that we should have a Natural Capital Innovation Fund, so that will start from April. We'll take expressions of interest for capital projects that we can actually start to showcase. At that point, I'm looking at Morag and Charles and everyone round this room. Andy. This is the chance for coming together and collaborate, because it would be great to get First Minister again back later on in the year or someone else to talk about the opportunities from the Natural Capital Innovation Zone with realistic projects. Again we were one of the key founders of the Wild Heart Expansion Programme. Again that gave us a lot of sleepless nights. But as I mentioned earlier and probably a few times, we have to move forward. Standing still is not an option anymore. Thank you.

Rob Dickson

Thanks, Cabinet Secretary. I feel I should probably declare an interest that I live in the community council area that Councillor Jardine referred to. I'm not a member of the community council for the avoidance of doubt.

I thought the presentations were really thought provoking. The paper makes the link to tourism. We're going to talk about tourism this afternoon, but I wanted to try and suggest a way forward. I'll land up at paragraph 5.2D where it specifically asks us about responding to a call to action in the paper. There's no doubt that Natural Capital Innovation Zone does provide us with a different opportunity and a different framework to operate within. I think we have to operate differently. If you do the same as you've always done, you'll get the same as you always get. I think we have to operate differently if we're going to achieve different outcomes in respect to the scale of the challenge that was talked about in the three presentations. The experience of RLUP has been about developing our understanding and developing new ways of working. If Councillor Hamilton felt he rose to the challenge, we should also rise to the challenge and try and see if we can respond to that in the context of what needs to happen in the Innovation Zone.

Morag, you finished with a set of questions, one of which was about measurement and how do we understand what's happening? That takes me to that they ask in the paper about demonstrating the impact of working together by developing specific approaches that deliver benefit and create wealth in local communities and across the region. I see no reason as to why a tourism element cannot be part and parcel of almost every conversation. The map, Andy, that you showed - which demonstrated the different types of planting, et cetera - I would like to see with some kind of different economic measure set out in it. The visitor economy measure might be part of it and others as well. I'd be happy to contribute VisitScotland's knowledge and understanding to try and develop that.

I'd be happy to try and see if we can't get some tourism proposals to be part of the capital projects, because until we get to a point in understanding that this is land that's being put to use for the benefit of Scotland's economy and for the benefit of communities - and tourism can play a part in that as much as anything else - then we're going to struggle, I think, to get the balance right between the objectives of what each of the three speakers said and Martin as well. I think we need to try and make sure that in the months ahead we demonstrate we can do that. Tourism would seem to me to be a way of being able to achieve it. I accept a degree of bias in that view. Others will put forward their case as well. But I think the tourism piece can be part of that. We'd be happy to support thinking and innovation in that way.

Mairi Gougeon

Brilliant. Thanks very much, Rob.

Colin Galbraith

Thanks very much, Cabinet Secretary. Colin Galbraith, Chair of NatureScot. I used to say new Chair of NatureScot, but I think I've got to dump the new now, haven't I?

I think the presentations this morning were really fantastic. Just three quick observations on that. I think what strikes me here is the scale of opportunity. It's the scale of bringing people together, planning at that - I would call it an ecosystem scale, but a landscape scale is really, really challenging and a real opportunity. I think in some ways for me, dare I say, it goes back to foot and mouth where I was heavily involved in developing access issues and all the rest of it. Dumfries and Galloway, Borders really stood out as getting their act together at that point. I think what this is doing is really following through from that. I think huge opportunity in terms of scale is my first point.

Second point is risk. I think there are risks in here that we haven't quite touched on yet. It is climate change. We've touched on climate change in terms of getting to the target and net zero. Climate change is with us for the next 100 years or so in some shape or form. How will that impact on forestry? How will that impact on development? How will that impact on housing? I think there are issues in there just about that risk end. My own hugely biased view is monocultures are highly risky under climate change. We heard good examples today of diversification. The more we can diversify, the more stable the ecosystem becomes, the more stable communities become behind that. There is a risk element in climate change in any 20, 50 year forward plan that we need to work together to address.

Then my third point is really about communities. I was really struck by what you said about community engagement. I think unless we've got communities onboard economically and environmentally, it's not going to happen. From NatureScot's perspective, we're really keen to be involved here going forward and to commit to that longer-term view. I know we're working already with yourselves on one or two projects. But your getting the environment underpinning this is really fundamental to communities, to development, to the whole situation that we heard about.

Really just to say we're enthusiastic partners. I think that's my summary. But there are issues in there that we do need to tackle. Thank you very much.

Russel Griggs

Yeah. Moving a wee bit sideways, as you know, we've also been doing a lot of work around community benefit, mainly coming from windfarms. As we've been speaking to the communities, we got a really interesting question which is, if we're doing this for windfarms, why couldn't we do it for trees? It's a really interesting question. I think we go back to some of the stuff that we're talking about, some of the stuff that Charles was talking about as we go forward and some of the stuff that Euan was talking about earlier about communities, they see what happens with woodland, in terms of what it does for community, exactly the same as a tree.

It's about should we be now thinking about - and that would help us all in many ways about how we bring that into the conversation and about how over time that - if people do invest - I've nothing against - I don’t want to stop investment. But if you come now and you're going to build a wind turbine, you know there's going to have to be something that goes into local community to help. Then surely we should be having that conversation now about if we are going to see, as Andy showed, this growth of trees over the coming years, is there something we have to have a very grown-up adult discussion about? It will be about how we take financial advantage from that for communities, not for ourselves but for our communities as we do for wind turbines. I think if we don't have that conversation, we are missing a big trick in this.

I've got something else I want to say, but I'll just pause for a minute and say that. But I'll do what I want to do last now, which is - it's a great discussion we've had this morning, but we need you guys and we need FLS and we need everybody else. If we're going to do this well, we can't do it just on our own, but we will. We need every bit of Scottish Government, all its agencies, et cetera, pushing hard from behind to say get on with it, it's great to do. That was my two points is (a) if we are going to get on with all this great stuff we're doing this morning, we need you guys and others round the table to say, yeah, we're for you. Let's come forward. We get that national push. But I do think at some point - and a lot of the stuff we're talking about this morning, if we don't have it at some time this discussion about why trees aren't treated the same as wind turbines, then we're failing ourselves.

Mairi Gougeon

Thanks very much, Russel. I think on your latter point, I think it's important that we have a follow-up - well, before, I think, the next meeting of the convention anyway but I think to have that discussion and bring all the key people together as well, because I'm also keen, I think, coming back to one of the points you made initially, Andy, about that, that collaboration piece and that better collaboration with Confor as well of course, making sure that we're all part of that conversation. I think we should follow up on that specifically, but I think the first part that you had touched on there, Russel, and that community benefit element, I think that's where I was going to turn to. I don't know whether any of our three presenters would like to come in on that or offer any views at the moment. Andy?

Andy Leitch

Yeah, we're already having these discussions with Morag on where community benefits can be provided through establishment of existing forests. I would be cautious about the financial side, because forestry is very much cyclical. In my, especially in my previous role, I remember writing a paper for the Chief Executive of what was the Forest Commission about we're going to have to fell trees at a loss just to keep the forest healthy, because the price of wood was so low the Forest Commission wasn't even going to make money. It's a very cyclical thing, so we'd have to be careful on that one. But very much up for discussion with communities, what we can do. I've actually got my own ideas that I haven't actually shared with Morag yet about community schools and things like that and forest schools. But no, we very much want to talk. But like everything else, we have to come to some sort of agreement.

Morag Paterson

Yeah, I think it's a very interesting point on the community benefit. I absolutely think we should have the conversation. I don't have the exact figures in front of me now, but in the community wealth building paper we did, we did use direct financial community benefit as one of the options in a case study from Trees for Life. But some of the issues around that is the money's quite - it's less significant than from windfarms, because there's just less money in the industry overall. It also creates a dependency relationship. It's also finite in terms of once someone reaches the maximum amount of trees. It's because it's based on carbon money in that case, to be fair, so it's not based on timber income. You can end up in a dependency relationship there, which may not reap as many benefits as if you took that benefit and ploughed it into long-term sustainable rural development.

That's just - because I know - I'm on a windfarm trust as well that distributes funds. We're looking very hard at how can we be more strategic with that money now? How can we plan for the future? It's great being able to fix a roof or do some resurfacing on a carpark or whatever, but how do we really take that money and plan for the future and put it into some really long-term development? If we were going down that route, it would be really essential that we go at it in that way rather than a kind of fixed price per this or per that, like we have with wind at the moment.

Màiri McAllan

Thank you. Yeah, I just wanted to offer an energy perspective, I suppose, on the question of community benefit for forestry. I should say I represent a constituency in the South of Scotland, not in the economic zone but in the electoral area. So I'm very accustomed to dealing with those tensions that councillors have been talking about, particularly coming up through community councils in quite fraught meetings which just make my palms sweat thinking about them to be honest. But I think the community benefit point that Russel mentioned is well made.

I just wanted to make the intervention to say that in the energy space where currently the question of mandating community benefit, mandating community ownership stakes is reserved for the UK government - and the Scottish Government is currently calling on UK to mandate a certain level of community benefit when it comes to onshore wind. I think that's really important as, on the one hand, we're saying we want to move even further with onshore wind up to 2030 and have it do the heavy lifting when it comes to decarbonising electricity but, on the other hand, communities see the benefit increasingly flowing to them. I just offer that as a perspective, noting that the finances might not be quite the same in forestry as they are with onshore wind. Perhaps there's other benefits that can flow that are - short of financial, but you mentioned access, Morag, and use of certain areas. I think all of that could be worth exploring.

Mairi Gougeon

Okay. Oh, sorry. Yeah, if you want to come in...

David Hope-Jones

Just very briefly. Thanks ever so much. I suppose keen to echo Rob's point on tourism and how key that it to this discussion. Like Rob, I should also declare an interest that I also live in the Midlem area, but I promise I didn't send the email to Euan earlier on.

But no, Galloway and Tweed forest parks are an integral part of what our offering is to visitors in the South of Scotland. We need to be proud and excited about that. Growing forestry in the South of Scotland can be a really good thing to grow our visitor economy, but perhaps two points. The details really matter to get it right for visitors. Having the right infrastructure, having the right maintenance of that infrastructure, having the right visitor information and the right marketing such that we can turn those forested areas into real assets is really key.

This time yesterday, I was walking up in the Highlands and coming off the hill - I won't say where - into an area. Two thirds of the forestry trails were closed and had to walk a mile and a half over clear felled land. I really thought I'd be wheeled in today rather than walking in. It's not an easy thing to do if you've ever had to try.

So the details really matter. Keeping the paths open, giving the right visitor information is absolutely key. Secondly, I think as we've all said, collaboration is the absolute key, working with communities and working with businesses at an early stage to be able to say this is an opportunity. But it's only an opportunity if we can listen to all those different voices and if we can ensure that businesses and communities can be a part of that planning, because you could do 95 per cent of the same thing that perhaps you would do from a commercial perspective just with sensitive changes in the right times in the right ways. You can bring communities and businesses onside with you.

I suppose a final plea from me, open minds, thinking strategically and working collaboratively. I agree with others. I think RLUP is a fantastic example of all three of those.

Mairi Gougeon

Brilliant. Thanks very much. Oh, sorry, couple of other people to come in. I will bring in Brendan and then I'll come to you, Martin.

Brendan Callaghan

Thanks. Thanks, Cab Sec. Yeah, I just thought it was worth just reflecting on a few of the points. I represent Scottish Forestry as Director of Operational Delivery.

A bit of history first actually. Ten years ago, the last time we were looking at a refresh of the government support for forestry through the grant scheme, everybody was beating us about the head. You need to do more with productive woodlands. All the woodland creation prior to that was native. The balance was perceived to be wrong. We are all about trying to get the right balance here, balancing not just the environment, community, financial but also the right type of woodland. We did make some changes. A lot of the things that's actually led to the current challenges we've got are almost like we're a victim of our own success here. The reason we've got so much interest in commercial forestry, it is actually the natural capital investment - the funds that are coming and buying these land, they're attracted to it because of the characteristics of those investments. It's not just financial return. It's delivering carbon and it's delivering wider benefits for investors. They can sell it.

In Scotland, it's a lucky position in many ways. We've got hundreds of millions of pounds in ringfenced funds looking to invest in these sorts of projects. But obviously they then create problems at a local level. That's where the balance thing comes in. Now thankfully not all of those projects are absolutely hefted to it's got to be Sitka spruce or a high percentage. Lots of them are also interested in native woodlands. Unfortunately most of them are not in the South of Scotland, so it would be nice to get a bit more of a balance and get more of that happening. It does sometimes come down to the type of organisation, so it's great to have Borders Forest Trust, long established, driving the way on this. I think the Wild Heart project could be another example of that.

A bit of a comment on the scale. At a national level, the impacts on agriculture, it's actually relatively small. But the problem is when you get to local levels, award level, a congregation of farms, it isn't necessarily small and it affects individuals. So we do need to look at better ways of assessing that and factoring in those potential impacts in our decisions.

A little bit of an olive branch and an offer to keep talking about this, Morag and I have got a meeting in the diary not too far away. We're really interested in how we can shape the approach to assessment of forestry projects to involve more effective community engagement, better feedback, better dialogue. We've got some good practice. It's not all good practice. A lot of the noise and the heat that comes around is definitely where the practitioners haven't followed - they could have done things better and established better relationship. Hats off to Confor. Confor have actually set up and been running and it's actively running at the moment a series of events to train forestry practitioners about how to do community engagement better.

But we're also open to making changes to the process. We've got a few ideas in mind. It follows on from the summit. Principally most of that is actually about how can we make this more accessible and work better for communities and make sure the information is packaged up and the feedback and the dialogue works better? Yeah. We're coming to this with an open mind. I'm happy to meet with Morag and others in the coming months and have those discussions and see if we can shape that to make that a better experience for everyone.

Mairi Gougeon

Brilliant. Thanks very much for that, Brendan. That was really helpful for setting that out. Please do take us up on that offer. I'll finish with you, Martin.

Martin Valenti

Is that on? Oh, that's it now. Thank you.

Seeing as we're getting to the I'm Spartacus part of the meeting and olive branches being thrown around, what I would say is that - and it's just a thought at the moment. I'm looking at Russel and Jane who might unthink it for me. But there's an opportunity here. We've got a Head of Land and Forestry who - sorry, Agriculture and Forestry who, for the first year of her year here, has been for agriculture. She's been deeply involved in that collaborative effort. The plan is to have an agriculture transition plan. You can see where I'm going, can't you, Cabinet Secretary? Wouldn't it be great if the people in this room collaborated on a forestry transition plan? Not us authoring it, because that's not our role. But we'll certainly want to contribute to that to make sure that a forestry transition plan has all of the things that we all want to see happen. Rather than critique what we didn't see in it is to actually get actively involved and add to it. That could happen in the coming years so as that we're going together with the same agenda.

I just throw that one out there as a thought at the moment, but I didn't take it as an action just looking here. But it is something that we're really, really keen to be involved in. Thank you.

Mairi Gougeon

Brilliant. Thanks very much for that, Martin. I think it has. It's been such a good conversation that we've had today around the issues here. I think that what we can pick up from the general consensus is I think we all want to work together and better collaborate in relation to this too. I think that gives us a really strong foundation for us to move forward from here. Thank you so much again for bringing the paper and presenting that. Thanks to Andy, to Charles and to Morag as well for offering your perspectives. Yes, I look forward to the continuing positive work in this area, so thank you all very much. With that, I think it is now the lunch break.

Mairi Gougeon

If we come back here for...

Judith Young

Quarter past.

Mairi Gougeon

1:15. Thank you very much, everyone.


Màiri McAllan

Thanks, Gail. Welcome back, everybody. I hope you enjoyed your lunch. After a very fruitful discussion on forestry, I hope you're ready to move now into one on another very important strand of the South of Scotland economy, namely tourism.

We know that tourism in the south creates jobs, sustains communities and contributes significantly to our national economy and to the regional economy. We know this in particular because I was looking at some stats this morning which told me that nine per cent of all businesses registered in the South of Scotland are tourism and that it accounts for, strangely enough, nine per cent of all employment. As I was driving down this morning from my house near Sanquhar, it struck me that it's really no wonder that that's the case, because the South of Scotland, certainly the part I was travelling through and the part that I call home, is absolutely beautiful. It has a rich and varied natural environment and lots of wonderful people living and working here, so those stats really speak for themselves in that regard.

Absolutely critical to our local economy here as it is to national, but equally we know that the sectors have been facing challenges. Rising costs have hit tourism and hospitality in particular. We also have the dual problem of high staff shortages and recruitment difficulties in a very tight labour market. That's been the case for a number of years, exacerbated by a number of recent developments. But I think that's why platforms like this, with the coming together of so many interested parties, are so important, because we can't hope to overcome those challenges alone. Government, business and communities will have to work hand in hand to overcome these challenges and deliver what I think we all want to do, which is that thriving and inclusive economy built in part on a fantastic tourism offer in the South of Scotland. This is a vision that we had set out in Scotland Outlook 2030 which is very much in line with a lot of what we're going to hear about today.

Now I'm just shortly going to take us on to the substantive paper which has been developed by VisitScotland and the South of Scotland Enterprise. It's entitled Scotland Starts Here, a Responsible Tourism Strategy for the South of Scotland. It's been developed with five partners, South of Scotland Enterprise, South of Scotland Destination Alliance, the Scottish Borders Council, Dumfries and Galloway Council and VisitScotland. The paper invites us as CoSS to welcome and endorse the strategy and to recognise the potential of the South of Scotland to contribute to the successful delivery of Scotland Outlook 2030 and the National Strategy for Economic Transformation. It also invites CoSS to discuss and to agree the contribution that it can make to delivering the strategy through specific actions which are set out in the paper. To begin taking us through the many aspects of that, I am going to hand over to Rob Dickson of VisitScotland who will pass on to some other speakers and share this part of the discussion. Thank you, Rob.

Rob Dickson

Thank you very much, Cabinet Secretary. Good afternoon, everyone. It's a genuine pleasure to bring this paper forward for consideration today. It's unquestionably a Team South paper. In the course of the next hour and a half, I hope we can evidence how strong that team is but also just how important that collaborative approach will be in delivering the strategy we're about to discuss, a collaborative approach, I hasten to add, in which I hope we can count on the support of CoSS in the delivery of the strategy. Having said it's a Team South paper, I'm grateful to my colleague, Gordon Smith, sat beside me, our Destination Development Director in the south, because he held the pen in producing the paper. While others contributed, he was the holder of the pen, so thank you for that, Gordon.

As the Cabinet Secretary said, we have three objectives to try and cover off in the next hour and a half. We hope that you'll endorse and welcome the strategy. We want to also have a bit of a discussion in doing that about how the work in the South of Scotland and tourism in the South of Scotland can contribute, as the Cabinet Secretary said, to the delivery of the national strategy for tourism, Scotland Outlook 2030, and indeed the wider economic strategy, National Strategy for Economic Transformation. In both cases, the focus on regional delivery of tourism and regional development of visitor economies is critically important. This strategy is a critical part of that. Certainly from a VisitScotland perspective, it's the presence of strong, coherent, medium to long-term strategies that we believe will give us the capacity we need to strengthen the visitor economy in Scotland and to meet its full potential. This strategy sits beside others that are either developed or underdeveloped in Scotland and is critically important in that context.

To know where you're going, it's always good to understand a little bit about where you've been and something of where you are. To strengthen the belief in achieving the ambitions set out in the strategy and what we are discussing this afternoon, I think the record of Team South is increasingly compelling. Why do I say that? Because if you look at the ground covered in less than the last decade, you recognise the momentum that has been built and quite what has been achieved in the South of Scotland, although Colin Galbraith's intervention this morning suggested I should have taken the timeline back to 2001 and perhaps start with what happened as a result of foot and mouth. There are one or two in the room who would reflect that actually I could have reasonably taken the timeline back to there, because some of the key elements of that collaborative approach and that understanding of how to address the economy were rooted in the recovery of foot and mouth. It was a point very well made, Colin.

You don't need to go back 10 years to find at least part of the region that wasn't connected to the national railway network, part of the only mainland in Scotland region that was not connected. You only need to look back to the Enterprise and Skills Review to understand the differences in terms of the economic opportunity that were available in the South of Scotland compared to others and from which SOSE was established through that review. Not long after that - if I can read, it's quite small - in 2019 in Moffat we gathered 32 independent destination management organisations. It was a challenge to even be certain that we had identified all of them. Bringing them together for that conversation was a challenge in itself. But from that, the work which delivered South of Scotland Destination Alliance and the position that we now find ourselves in with a regional DMO of significant strength and capacity, [it has] been established.

Now, of course, the regional economic strategy published in 2021 focused on the opportunities that we need to take in the south, one of which was immediately recognised was cycling. CoSS endorsed the cycling strategy that was produced for the region two years ago. Can't quite remember.

Paula Ward

September '23.

Rob Dickson

Thank you, Paula. September '23.

Now we sit with the Responsible Tourism Strategy in front of us. These are significant milestones. In each step, it strengthens the confidence that we should have that we understand what we're trying to achieve and are capable of delivering that. Given that trajectory and evidence of Team South's success, it made total sense to develop that work in the way that we have in developing this Responsible Tourism Strategy.

As the Cabinet Secretary said, the five strategic partners have overseen the delivery of the strategy, but actually the work was supported by an advisory group. Many of you in the room today were members or your colleagues were members of that advisory group, all of whom have an embedded interest in the south and its tourism economy. I'll leave David Hope-Jones, who I'm going to hand over to in a second or two, to set out more of the detail in respect of the process that we followed. But suffice to say the engagement and the work to be as collaborative as we possibly could be, both amongst the strategic partners and with the advisory group and beyond that with the wider industry and others, is I think the foundation of what has been achieved in this strategy.

I want to conclude the remarks I make by making three overarching points. You'll be unsurprised to hear that VisitScotland remains convinced that tourism is a force for good. We believe it can be a greater force for good and be delivered in a responsible way that addresses the needs of communities, the needs of visitors. It can be inclusive in our approach for all visitors. It can address the climate challenges we face and enhance our built and cultural heritage. That's a very, very wide span, but the strategy does a great job in responding to that breadth and talking about what can be achieved in the south in tackling that wide spread of activities.

I believe the strategy sets an attainable but high bar in challenging us to be better in the future in respect of these issues. You'll be unsurprised that we are, as an organisation, supportive of that approach. We're committed to supporting delivery of the strategy. We're primarily committed to that because we genuinely believe the strategy will, as I've already said, deliver on the national Scotland Outlook 2030 ambitions and on the regional economic strategy's ambitions as well as the national economic strategy ambitions.

Secondly, we should be clear that the south stands on the cusp of making probably a historically larger contribution to Scotland's visitor economy than it has done previously. Why? Because it can attract and has capacity for more international visitors - and that's a position of strength - and because more than any other location, by dint of nothing more than where it is, it can also grow its domestic visitor economy. I would venture to suggest that Scotland's visitor economy will depend on the south in a way that it perhaps never has until now in the future.

Finally, let me challenge you - of course, in the friendliest of ways - on your ambition and what you can bring to delivery of this strategy. I hope that we can count on your support as national agencies and as regional organisations as we start the hard yards of delivering the strategy. We'll talk a little bit more once Gordon introduces the five elements, the five questions in the paper. I'm going to hand over to David who's going to say something more about the process we followed in the strategy itself.

David Hope-Jones

Rob, thanks ever so much. I want to echo what Rob was saying. Where we are today is a triumph of partnership and collaboration, of the SSDA working closer with VisitScotland, with SOSE and with our two local authorities than we ever have before.

I wonder also if I could preface what I want to say about the strategy with a little bit of where we are generally with regard to tourism in the South of Scotland, because it is an interesting time. The last big strategic targets that we set for tourism in South of Scotland was in 2020 in the low points of COVID when we said we want to get the visitor economy up to £750 million a year and we want to support a further 6,500 jobs. Those were five-year targets to 2025. Now the South of Scotland, the latest STEAM data shows, exceeded those targets two-and-a-half years early.

I want to talk a little bit about VisitScotland's excellent Thistle Awards, the Oscars of the visitor economy. I think, when I started 12 months ago, there was a real sense of sometimes the South of Scotland being overlooked with some of these things, sometimes being the forgotten part of Scotland. But because of the support that we've had from VisitScotland, that is no longer the case. We've created, with VisitScotland, the South of Scotland Thistle Awards. That's been able to support businesses to go into the national finals. A few quick stats about those national finals. For the first time ever, the South of Scotland won more national Thistle Awards than any other part of Scotland, these awards that have been going for the last 30 years. That has never happened before. We got twice as many awards as we ever have before. In fact we won as many Thistle Awards in December as we had the previous 17 years put together.

David Hope-Jones

What is the picture that I'm painting? We are a region with increasing pride, with increasing energy, with increasing vision. What this strategy is is the answer to the question, in that context, what next? In that context, where could we go? How high could we dream for the visitor economy in the South of Scotland? That's what this strategy is all about.

We five partners were absolutely key that we wanted a really strong consultation process as we wrote this strategy. Why? Because I genuinely believe the more people from different backgrounds that feed into a piece of work like this, the stronger the result, but also because it needs to be more than just a public sector strategy. It needs to be relevant to and owned by communities and businesses and enterprises. So we had a hugely far-reaching consultation. We had 14 in-person meetings, 13 digital meetings, 20 one-to-one meetings. We had online surveys, advisory groups. We worked with REP and business leaders.

The 14 in-person meetings began in Galashiels and ended in Stranraer. This is what they looked like. This is me banging on in Galashiels as we got started. We used Mentimeter which is a brilliant tool, because it means we ask a question and every single person that's turned up gets to give their answer on their mobile phones. All of the answers are anonymised and are put up on the big screen. We have a discussion. Everyone can vote on the points that they really believe in. But crucially it means that everyone can see afterwards their voice, their words and where they fit into the strategy.

This is just one of the questions we asked. How do you want the South of Scotland represented? How do you want the South of Scotland sold? This is the metadata from the 14 in-person meetings to that question. We can see history and heritage and beauty and friendly. That is how we see ourselves and how visitors see us and how we will sell the South of Scotland.

Through these consultations, we had a huge amount of data, both quantitative and qualitative. We put all of that together. We used AI in innovative and interesting ways to be able to collate what have we heard from communities and businesses and enterprises? We created a two-page summary for each of the eight questions. We've put that online. At every stage in the drafting, we five partners have gone through, line by line, that summary. We are confident that the strategy that you have today is a representation of what we've heard from communities and businesses and visitors to the South of Scotland.

One of the challenges that I was given in chairing these 27 meetings was, David, when you come back with a strategy, you need to be able to summarise it in a sentence. Businesses are busy running their businesses. You need to be able to summarise it in a sentence. Let me have a crack at summarising that strategy in a sentence. Please be generous with semicolons and maybe a colon or two.

But we want to radically transform the visitor economy in the South of Scotland by doing four things - inspiring more people to visit, by developing the visitor experience they have when they do, supporting businesses to succeed and doing that in a responsible way so no one suffers. Again and again, we heard from business, just keep it simple. Four things. That's how we're going to deliver transformational growth in the South of Scotland visitor economy.

Now my hope is that each of you have had a draft of the text and hopefully have had a chance to skim through it. I'm going to really quickly just give you some of the headlines behind each of those four areas.

Inspiring visitors. There's work there around developing the destination position and profile, the story we tell of the South of Scotland to bring in the markets that we want, about extending the season. We currently have one of the shortest seasons in Scotland. Growth comes from extending the seasons. We're not a sell them cheap, stack them high destination. It's not about piling more people in in the busy summer months. It's extending that season.

The travel trade, they're the intermediaries between the customer and the host businesses. Better working with travel trade, better leveraging those designations like the brilliant UNESCO biosphere, our UCI cycling accolades and game-changing ambition to attract international visitors. Why does that matter? At the moment, six per cent of visitors to the South of Scotland are international compared to a 19 per cent average across Scotland. Remember 19 per cent of visitors to Scotland are international, but 49 per cent of spend in the Scottish visitor economy is from international visitors. It matters because international visitors spend two-and-a-half times as much as domestic visitors. We need to increase that. Most of the South of Scotland is within 90 minutes of an international airport and yet we are woefully under-represented in those key markets.

The second strand is about developing the visitor experience. It's about growing quality and identifying those hubs of growth and development. We were standing in the cold outside, Cabinet Secretaries, earlier on to celebrate the economic impact of the UCIs. That's a great example of where we've all leaned in together as Team South as Rob said. We've seen the economic benefit of that. Credit to Paula Ward and others for that success.

But this strategy looks, in addition to cycling, to those other areas that if we all lean in together can have a multiplier effect for our economy. It talks about events and activities and accommodation and infrastructure as well. When I was chairing those 27 meetings and I stood up and said what would support tourism in the South of Scotland, infrastructure is what people said. Fix the bloody potholes. Open the public toilets. Empty the bins. Tourism success sits on a foundation of good infrastructure. EV road charger networks. We need to get that infrastructure right if we're going to unlock the visitor economy which is an economy, as Rob said, of national significance.

Supporting businesses, it has been a uniquely difficult and dynamic last four or five years for businesses. This strategy needs to be for businesses in all of its shapes and sizes. We need to collaborate and support. We need to represent businesses through times of changing regulations. Fundamentally destinations succeed when businesses work together. That's our vision for the South of Scotland. Workforce development, the challenges that businesses have at the moment to fill the vacancies that they've got. We need to inspire the young people of the South of Scotland to stay in the South of Scotland. We need to use great institutions, like the one we're in today, to give them the skills that they need. We need to have an economy that creates quality year-round employment. Data sharing, collecting the right data, sharing the right data and helping busy businesses use that data to make good decisions that allow their businesses to grow.

The final strand is, of course, act responsibly. This is a responsible tourism strategy. Natural capital is at the very top of that list - and we were talking about that this morning - as is net zero and community-led tourism. We've worked with SCOTO very closely in the refinement of the language of that section of the strategy. Accessibility and inclusion and visitor management and motorhome experience, really something that came out again and again, particularly at the D&G side of the region.

We put this out in December to the key partners. Overwhelmingly the feedback we got was great, love it. Love your four strands, love these 22 areas, but can you dial up the ambition? That's brilliant. When you're developing a strategy like that, that's the best possible bit of feedback you can get to your first draft, because you go away and actually you can really think about where could we take this? We've currently got a visitor economy of £762 million. We, over the next 10 years, want to increase that by £1 billion. You can tell when you've got the ambition right, because everyone gulps when you say that round the table. We want to increase it to £1.7 billion. We want to support a further 6,000 jobs to 20,000.

Where is that growth going to come from? From becoming a year-round destination, extending that season, by changing the way we fundamentally frame the South of Scotland from a go-through destination to a go-to destination. We've been the place that's convenient to stay for a night on your way to your holidays in the Highlands. That's what we need to change, thinking about the South of Scotland as the destination. Finally, radically increasing the international market share. We've got some fantastically exciting propositions of how practically we could do that. Cabinet Secretaries, it would be wonderful to sit down with you and share some of those ideas of national significance to you of how we're going to unlock that billion pounds for the Scottish economy, which I absolutely believe we can do.

It is a responsible tourism strategy. I'm sure, in our discussion, we'll talk more about what we mean by that. But for me, it's the list on the right that I find most useful. We need to get out of bed each day and think, who are we responsible to? We're responsible to our communities, our climate, our natural world, our culture, our visitors, our children and our workforce. If they're at the front of our minds, we're going to make good decisions over the next decade or so. This is a strategy that nests beautifully with Outlook 2030 and the other regional and national strategies that are already out there.

We put out the draft at the beginning of January. We had an online survey. I'll show you some of the data from that in a moment. We've briefed D&G councillors, Scottish Borders councillors. Scottish Borders Council has signed off the strategy and I'm hopeful that D&G will on 19 March. We've had public meetings, again looking at the draft that's there. We've briefed the SOSE board. I'm going back out again to each of these 14 areas. We'll keep doing that. Every six months, I go to each of these 14 areas and engage those businesses and communities in the delivery of the strategy.

What have we heard through January to the draft that we've put out? Just some quick statistics. Eighty-four per cent of people that have fed back have said that they do believe this has been an inclusive and transparent and fair consultation process. Why does that matter? Because in some ways, the process is as important as the end result, that it needs to inspire people's involvement. It needs to create those collaborations. Ninety-three per cent of respondents who inputted to the consultation can see where their voice and their views are there in this strategy. Ninety-five per cent of respondents say they see themselves being involved in the delivery of this strategy. Ninety-seven per cent say, if we do this, they and their business and their communities will benefit from this work.

Again why does this matter? Because in each of those 27 consultation meetings, what I said was when we come back in January with a draft, if the consensus is that this isn't the right thing, that this doesn't represent the South of Scotland, that businesses don't want to be involved in this vision, they don’t share that vision, I promised that we would can the whole thing, that we would turn the page, blank sheet of paper and start again, because it has to be more than just a public sector strategy. It has to inspire the confidence of communities and businesses and the third sector as well. So those numbers really do matter on that screen, that 97 per cent are saying this will benefit me and my family and my community. That's why we want to achieve it.

This is very roughly what it will look like. Final slide from me. What you're seeing is the slightly boring-looking Word document, but we're working with the designers at the moment. It really is going to feel like the South of Scotland through that graphical display.

But crucially this strategy sets out to say where do we want to go? How are we going to get there? Behind it is an implementation plan, a three-year rolling action plan that shows the details. Who's going to do what? It is critical, over the next 10 years, we keep going back publicly to businesses and communities and saying this is what we're trying to do and to be brave enough to say we tried to do A, B and C and do you know what? C's not really working. We need to change that a little bit. The implementation plan will be dynamic. It'll be accountable. It'll be transparent. It'll change over time.

I just want to finish again by thanking all of the partners around that table for that collaboration and for that passion and that energy. That's the difference of what's going to transform the visitor economy. I think, Gordon, I'm going to pass back to yourself.

Rob Dickson

I think general discussion, Cabinet Secretary, just about the strategy - I'm happy to take any comments that - between David, myself, perhaps the councils, we can answer any questions that anybody's got and take any points onboard as well. Then Gordon's going to take us in the second part of the conversation through the various five actions, I think. Opportunity for any comments or remarks that anybody wants.

Màiri McAllan

Just for my part before we move on, as you suggested, just to say thank you very much for both presentations and for the exceptional amount of work that's clearly gone into this. I think it was really interesting that in the word bubble that you produced of the 27 meetings that you did culture, history and heritage were some of the largest. It always strikes me that some of the most successful economic or social pursuits are those which pertain to the provenance of an area. I just wonder if, as much of an exercise in developing a tourism strategy, it's actually been a bit of a discovery for the people and the businesses of the South of Scotland about all of what we have to offer but we probably haven't talked about enough in the past. I expect that you received a lot of enthusiasm.

I suppose one question that I had was - and again it's just something that always strikes me about the fact we have this wonderful joined area, but did you notice any disparities arising between different parts of the region or was it largely similar asks that were coming out from different parts? To the extent you did have any disparity, how did you try and reconcile that?

David Hope-Jones

I'm really happy to give an initial response, but again partners Mark and Gordon, do share yours. No, it's a great question. Yeah, there were some differences. It's interesting. In the longer version of this presentation, we show the word clouds and how it changes in each of the areas. All of that is online, so I can send you the links and see the detail. Some areas saw themselves as it being about the environmental side. It's the biodiversity side, others about history and heritage. But no, there was definitely synergies in a lot of areas. I suppose another difference, motorhomes came up far more strongly in the west of the region than the east of the region such that at certain times in the east of the region people would scratch their heads and being like, why is there such a prominent thing about motorhomes sort of thing? But the key points, there is remarkable synergy across the South of Scotland.

The most exciting thing I think through all of this, through all of these meetings, no one really said - no one questioned the idea of a Team South approach. No one said, oh, well, that's a D&G thing or that's a Scottish Borders thing. Everyone is seeing and feeling the benefits of that Team South approach. While there might be minor differences, fundamentally everyone's buying into the idea. The reason I wanted to start with those facts and figures about the success is that's where you create the energy, that if you can show people by doing this, Team South, by being louder and prouder, actually you will feel the benefits. You can see this because of A, B and C. Then people really buy into that idea. Minor regional differences, but generally an overwhelming willingness to have a Team South approach.

Màiri McAllan

That's wonderful. Thank you very much. Rob, I'll hand back to you.

Rob Dickson

Okay. Any other comments or questions at all about the overall strategy? I count that as endorsement and welcoming, I think, David, probably.

We're going to take time now to work our way through five areas that we think are of strategic significance and five areas that we think definitely require collaboration from not just the organisations that have been responsible for the development of the strategy but actually other partners that are members of CoSS as well and probably, in some instances, that collective effort that CoSS can bring. Gordon's going to lead us through the slides. We'll literally do these one at a time and then have a discussion about each issue, because we think that each of the issues warrants its own discussion when it's here. Gordon. Thanks.

Gordon Smith

Thanks, Rob. Just move this on to - so we're going to look at five strategic asks that are in the paper that you've been sent out. The first topic that we're going to focus on is cycling. Within the paper itself, we're highlighting the fantastic work that's gone on in the South of Scotland over the past few years with the development of the South of Scotland Cycling Strategy, the success of the South of Scotland hosting the UCI World Cycling Championship events last year and the accolade, the UCI Bike Region status. We've seen the development of the South of Scotland Cycling Infrastructure Fund, the creation of our Kirkpatrick coast-to-coast route, the development of 7stanes masterplans along the routes with cycling that we're going to touch on later.

We have Borderlands Inclusive Growth Deal work, looking at the Destination Tweed and the Tweed trail from Moffat to Berwick-upon-Tweed that's again going to open up to various forms of travel, but that will include walking and cycling in the future too. We also talk to the partnership work of VisitScotland and the South of Scotland Destination Alliance in developing marketing activity specifically focusing on come your holidays to the South of Scotland and enjoy what we have on offer for cyclists when you're here. Again through that paper, we also open up that opportunity for further investment and development and particularly a focus on safe path networks for initially the local but ultimately in the subject land of tourism to develop that for the visitor.

Within the paper, we have two asks. The asks are for the Convention of the South of Scotland to acknowledge that the scope of the opportunity and level of activity being delivered to position the South of Scotland cycling proposition to visitors is in line with our strategic ambition. We want to open up to discuss and commit to the development of more safe spaces to ride and open access to additional path networks for the South of Scotland to provide visitors of all cycling abilities safe, enjoyable and memorable experiences. This could look like a multiyear funding commitment from our regional transport partnerships and local authorities, being an essential approach to allowing them to invest in long-term projects that deliver strategic path networks and drive long-term change for our citizens and our visitors.

My colleague, Paula Ward, from South of Scotland Enterprise is here. She's been leading on our cycling strategy. I'm just going to invite Paula as part of our discussions to input just now. Thank you.

Paula Ward

Sure. Thank you. I really appreciate the opportunity to be here. I think unlocking the power of the bike was always part of our destiny, bearing in mind that the bike was first made here with Kirkpatrick Macmillan just shy of 200 years ago, so I don't think we were ever going to get out of the fact that we were going to be heavily invested in this.

Our plan is a good one. Actually today we launched the annual review of the first year of the South of Scotland Cycling Partnership Strategy. We have made such good ground. We have worked collaboratively. Team South, as always, has the ability to deliver and drive real change.

To go to David's point, international visitors into our region is something that's of paramount importance. The value of the European cycling market is just shy of £18.2 billion. There's over 20 million cycle tourists that take holidays in Europe. They're our nearest neighbours. They are accessible through our airlines. They're accessible through our ferry routes. If we want to create the right type of environment for them to come and explore our region, then safe pathways is the ultimate way for us to do that. Sixty-one per cent of travellers want to do so and want to discover a region more sustainably.

When you look at the South of Scotland, we're a beautiful tapestry of hidden gems. The bike is a way to put people in the right types of transport that reduce their emissions and they reduce the impact to the environment. We can deliver them by bike to small, fragile rural communities who might not see the tour buses or they might not see the normal sort of footfall that you would. That's why we've created the Kirkpatrick coast to coast. It goes through 22 overnight stopover locations that are suggested. But these are tiny, fragile rural environments that have a coffee shop or they have a restaurant or they have a bed and breakfast or they have a hotel. The bike can get people into places in our region that you might not be able to.

Infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure. It came out in the consultations that were taking place right the length and the breadth as we developed the Responsible Tourism Strategy. If we build safe spaces for our citizens, our visitors will benefit. They're interconnected, because if we build safe spaces for our citizens and our residents, we'll put good signage on them. We'll create safe spaces that are available for all walks of life, for all active travel users, for wheeling, walking and cycling. That for us, within the cycling strategy, is of paramount importance. We have 10 milestone projects over the next 10 years that will help us move towards that ambition to embed cycling into the everyday lives of our visitors and the experiences of our citizens, but we can't do that unless we spend the money on building the right safe spaces in order for our citizens to experience that. That's come out in lots of different consultations.

The Cycling Scotland Annual Cycling Monitor Review cites - apart from the weather which we can't really do much about - the second biggest barrier to riding a bike every day for everyday life is safety and the fact that people don't feel safe on bikes. I feel really strongly that if we build for our communities, then our environment will benefit, our economy will benefit and our visitors will also benefit and take advantage of that.

Rob Dickson

Okay. Thank you, Gordon and Paula, for that input. Thoughts, comments from anyone about the cycling piece and the support of that?

Russel Griggs

Okay. I've got two comments to make. I think it illustrates the point that you made earlier on, Cabinet Secretary, about how all these things link together, because Euan and I spoke at the Innovation Conference at the UCI this year. What really came home to me is about 100 companies there from all over the world who not just – the tourism, they come as tourists, but they're building bits for bikes so new batteries, new wheels, et cetera. If we can start to attract some of those to the South of Scotland as well, then they bring in a whole load of other things.

Now we also have, as Paula's well aware, Warner Bros International. The home of their bike planning for the whole of the world is in Innerleithen, so we now get people coming from all over the world again to design the rules of this sport over the next 10/15 years. We are now at the heart of what's creating. This is percolated out not just as a tourism strategy, but it adds to all the other bits that we want to do around this. It's quite remarkable. This tiny little organisation in Innerleithen of about 30 folk run Warner Bros worldwide cycling. As you know, in sport now, it's the broadcasters that run sport. Therefore with them pushing it all of the time, it's great. I just wanted to add to that to say this bit of it percolates out into much, much more than the South of Scotland.

Màiri McAllan

Thanks, Russel. I should say Rob's going to chair this particular bit of it, just owing to how self-contained it is within the team and the different aspects. I'll keep my eyes peeled for anybody, but we're looking to Rob to come in.

Rob Dickson

Was there anybody else? Sorry.

Euan Jardine

No, no, thank you. We were in Bruges. We picked up the City Region Label, UCI. One of the things I said when I was there, we used to be talking about punching above our weight in the south when it comes to cycling and actually we're a heavyweight region now. We are a heavyweight region when it comes to cycling. I think we need to start believing that. One of the things Paula's just saying is those safe spaces. What really stood out for me when we had the UCI in the Scottish Borders area was the amount of cyclists on the road.

I remember a Dutch lady was cycling all the way back into Galashiels. They had a bus behind her, trucks, lorries. She didn't flinch. I could even see her on her phone, taking a selfie.

I thought, how does that happen? Because she was confident on the road and she was confident on a bike. There was a girl I think from the Philippines had put on her social media. Again she had a selfie stick, riding up to Edinburgh. Busy road. We wouldn't have thought twice about cycling, but for her it was confidence. We just don't have that confidence here. But the only way we can get that confidence is to give people the opportunity to get on their bike, to get into a safe place to learn to cycle. It needs to become something that is in the culture and in the DNA. It isn't in our culture and DNA yet, but slowly it's drip feeding.

If you go up to Tweed Valley, it's very different to the Galashiels area, very different if you go to Kelso. I'm sure it's very different if you go to Lockerbie. Now what you see in the Tweed Valley, they've created this little pocket of cycling that is like a mecca for so many people. I grew up in Innerleithen. Now it's transformed. It's not the same place. I was never on a bike. Now I'd probably be on a bike everywhere you go. You see so many bikes going around, because it's in the culture. People, oh, if they can do it, I can do it. I think we need to start doing that is creating those places and taking what we’ve created in Tweed Valley and drip feeding it and dropping it into all across the whole of the south.

But it's that confidence like Paula says, not just letting children at school learn how to do cycle safety round the playground. No, actually give them safe places to experiment, to go out, to take some risks but in a place that's confined and they're not going on a busy road. Yeah, well said, Paula, on the safe spaces. I think it's so important.

Rob Dickson

Thanks, Councillor Jardine. Alison Irvine?

Alison Irvine

Thank you. Can everybody hear me?

Alison Irvine

Okay, good. I'm Alison Irvine. I'm the Chief Executive of Transport Scotland. Normally that statement emits a boo, depending on who my audience is.

I'm hoping that you will give me a bit of space before you boo that. I'm really pleased that cycling is the first one of the challenges on this, because the theme of today is sustainability. I don't need to remind you transport is Scotland's largest emitting sector. We are also an enabler, which is why it's one of your grand challenges. But we are a derived demand, so we depend upon businesses, people, community, et cetera, in order to help us meet all the various different priorities and outcomes that we have in the National Transport Strategy. This aligns really well.

Cabinet Secretary, I hope you don't mind that I'm maybe stealing some of your thunder here.

Màiri McAllan

It's not my thunder anymore, Alison.

Alison Irvine


Màiri McAllan

I'm no longer Transport Secretary.

Alison Irvine

This is true. This is true.

Màiri McAllan

You go ahead.

Alison Irvine


Rob Dickson

I think that means you're on your own, Alison, actually.

Alison Irvine

Actually, no, you're all now a witness that it's okay for me to say that.

Active travel is one of the areas in the next financial year which has seen an increase in the funding. With that increase comes big responsibility, because you will hear time and time again about all the different funding challenges that ministers have had to make over the last wee while. Leadership is really, really key here, both at a national level, at a regional level and at a local level. You guys - and again I'm just picking up on what you said, Councillor. You guys have got it in spades, the amount of leadership that you can see coming through in this region if I take that there. You're in a really good position. Your South of Scotland strategy has been really great work. You were really prominent in the UCI, et cetera, et cetera. You've got all of those really good things to build on.

But place-based improvements I think are the key here. There's no use in me sitting in my - to quote other politicians - highfalutin office in Glasgow, dictating what you should be doing, so that kind of place-based approach is really important. I know that you'll be doing this already, but working with other partners, such as Scottish Cycling, to build on that place-based approach I think would be really important. From our perspective, we are transforming how we support active travel delivery in terms of the way in which it's funded. We've now got a stream that has more of a direct relationship with local authorities, less of it going through Sustrans, et cetera. We'd be building on that approach for the next financial year.

I have to say the multiyear funding thing, we know it's a challenge. It's not just a challenge in this sector. It's a challenge across a number of streams. We try to be as flexible as we can in the design of the programme, but we can't get away from the fact that we are all having to deal with single-year budgets. So I would say work with us on this space.

Transport Scotland has a really key role, I think, here supporting you on this. We're here to do that. I often like to describe myself as my target customer. If you can persuade people like me to get on a bike to go about their everyday business, then that's what success is. Thank you for the work that you've done.

Rob Dickson

Thanks, Alison. No boos. You're amongst friends. Any other comments on transport? I think supporting and agreeing the ask there with a note on Russel's international point and Councillor Jardine's point as well about the dynamic here which is genuinely international - this is not just about local, but it's genuinely international - but also underlining then Transport Scotland's role and that leadership piece that we need to show linked, perhaps identifying in the action plan, I would think, with other partners like Scottish Cycling and trying to develop I think a flexible programme so that perhaps one day we'll get to multiyear funding. I live in hope of that. Okay. Gordon, on to the next one.

Gordon Smith

Okay, the next focus is tourism road signage. Within our paper, the paper is highlighting the importance of clear and welcoming signage to contribute to that visitor experience across the South of Scotland. We all know - and the map is there to remind us - that the South of Scotland has that unique geographic position, obviously on the Scotland/England border, links to Northern Ireland by ferry and to Cairnryan. Fourteen million UK residents are four hours' drive away from the south, so that's our domestic market audience for the South of Scotland. We need to be overcoming - and the paper and the strategy has this aim to overcome us becoming that drive-through with the ambition to become a go-to. At the moment, we feel we have that drive-through perception, but we want to become that go-to destination.

We have a great destination brand, Scotland Starts Here. It's a brand that we can all share as partners in the South of Scotland. With tourism road signage, we believe that we have an opportunity to use Scotland Starts Here destination branding across the region to raise the profile of tourism and the visitor economy across the south.

Within the paper, we again are asking for a discussion and ask that the Convention of the South of Scotland acknowledges the importance that clear and welcoming signage can bring in contributing to the quality of visitor experience of the visitor, creating a strong sense of place and assisting in the enjoyment of the visitor to the region, and a discussion and commitment that - through a partnership approach with Transport Scotland, VisitScotland, South of Scotland Enterprise - a development plan is created with South of Scotland Destination Alliance, Scottish Borders Council, Dumfries and Galloway Council to identify the opportunity to update and strengthen the signage landscape and for the destination brand Scotland Starts Here to be incorporated into welcome signage at the border and across the region. Alison Irvine from Transport Scotland is going to provide some input on that at the moment. Thank you, Alison.

Alison Irvine

This is exciting. I wasn't expecting to be first.

Transport again on the agenda just underlines, I think, how important it is to the region. I welcome the strategic approach that you guys have taken to the tourism road signage. One of the key drivers from us from a road safety perspective is about clarity of message and clarity of what our signs say. It's also about removing clutter from the sides of our roads, principally because unfortunately people have a tendency to drive into them, which is not our aim. We know we've also got some really iconic signs, particularly on some of the trunk roads, that feature at times when you wouldn't even imagine that they would be featuring in terms of the media interest and all the rest of it. So it is important that we get it right.

This is probably the boo moment, I'm afraid. We do have rules that we need to follow. The catchily-titled Traffic Signs Regulations Manual 2016 prescribes the way in which we are able to support signage so that it's clear for drivers to read - sizes, et cetera, et cetera. We are happy to work with you on that basis, but it has to be recognised that we have to do it within the rules which keep us all safe. Similarly I know that there'll be a bit of an interaction between what you might have on some of the strategic roads versus what you would have on some of the local roads, so it will be important that when you start to think about what that signage strategy is that the message follows through, that it doesn't just stop once you leave the trunk road network. Leave it at that point just now, Gordon. Thank you.

Rob Dickson

Any other thoughts, comments on that one?

Scott Hamilton

Thank you very much, Rob. No, my comments here - it's not a question. It's one of support. Branding and getting identity is one of the ways in which we can really push forward the economy, particularly in tourism. Linking it back to the previous slide which talked about sport, we've seen the figures. Sixty-five million people tuned in to watch the UCI and obviously see the region at its best. Having that branding and being able to showcase us as a region I think is terrific. I think it really shows as a region, if we get our branding right, [actually] that is a stepping stone to moving forward. Now there's been a lot of comments that's been made that the south is at one end of Scotland. Well, actually it's in the middle of United Kingdom really. You've got to think of it like that. There's all these elements that come together that give us this unique opportunity.

I really support you on the branding side of things. Particularly I represent an area, Jedburgh, which is on the trunk road. It's trying to get people to stop over. It's trying to get people to understand that tourism value that we've got there. Signage is one of the ways in which we do that and give us that [logo], so really supportive of it. I know when this got discussed at our council meeting, that was one of the things that was highlighted really strongly that they wanted to see happen.

Rob Dickson

Thank you, Councillor Hamilton. Yeah, David.

David Hope-Jones

Just to say I absolutely agree, Alison, about it needs to be consistent across the South of Scotland. I'm keen to reassure that we're making the same asks of the private sector as well. Really exciting partnerships in Gretna Green, Caledonia Park which has 2.4 million people stopping off the M74. We're using that place to be able to get the Scotland Starts Here brand visible and also in Gretna Green as well. I think this is where it's useful to sit around in person round a table and say, we believe in this endpoint. Absolutely appreciate the challenges and the rules and the regulations. But it'd be brilliant to go on that journey with Transport Scotland to find a way through those rules and those challenges to that endpoint, because there's a real appetite from the communities and the businesses as well. Very much welcome the support. Thank you.

Rob Dickson

Thanks, David. Anybody else?

Màiri McAllan

Rob, I could just say having gotten the TS point of view which I agree with, just from a ministerial point of view, when I did work with Alison as Transport Secretary, yes, we did. We had calls on some parts of our trunk road for fewer signs, some in other areas for more. Clarity, of course, for our drivers has to be the utmost concern for Transport Scotland, but I would just say that I do completely understand the point about branding. It certainly troubles me, as somebody who lives in the South of Scotland, that after a point it's just Carlisle that's advertised and not everything in-between. I think certainly it would be something that would be very noticeable for people and could make quite a - it feels to me like it should be a quick win if we can navigate the rules and the safety issues which are very important.

Rob Dickson

Thank you. Challenge thrown down I think, Alison, to all of us collectively I hasten to add. Okay. Any other points on that one? I think not. Okay. Gordon, forestry, back to where we started.

Gordon Smith

Delighted to bring forests back into our conversation today and this afternoon. Forestry, the paper that you have has highlighted the importance of forests to our visitor offer here in the South of Scotland with forest acting as the backdrop to key events such as UCI World Championships last year at Glentress. Our forests are home to various types of visitor accommodation options and including, new for 2024, the £18 million investment of Forest Holidays, again at Glentress. We see nature-based activities in our forests, walking, cycling, equestrianism.

We also see the development of a series of Forestry and Land Scotland masterplans across the 7stanes sites in the south. These masterplans will focus on how the 7stanes can become more inclusive visitor destinations over the next few years with the creation of new business opportunities, the development of the 7stanes as event venues, potential of the sites for new cycling opportunities and how the 7stanes can support the development of a wide range of accommodation options and also [being] those places that there is innovative outdoor play facilities for all.

The paper therefore asks for a discussion and ask that the Convention of South of Scotland acknowledges the scope of opportunity for forest-based tourism in the South of Scotland in line with the aspirations of the South of Scotland Responsible Tourism Strategy and the South of Scotland Cycling Partnership Strategy and for a discussion and a commitment to support a partnership approach to the development of the FLS masterplans across the 7stanes centres over the next two years and levers key agency supports to deliver on the aspirations contained within the paper. I'm going to invite John Dougan, Regional Manager, Forestry and Land Scotland to provide some further input at the moment. Thank you, John.

John Dougan

Thank you. It's actually quite interesting. You mentioned earlier on about the recovery from foot and mouth. For those of you that have been in this part of the world long enough - which I'm afraid I have to class myself as - the whole approach to 7stanes and the mountain-biking centres that were put in place were our response to trying to rebuild the rural economy and rural tourism off the back of that unfortunate set of circumstances over 20 years ago now. Yeah, it's quite timely, when we're starting to talk about moving things again on to the next level as far as tourism in the South of Scotland is concerned, to think about how can the 7stanes play a part in escalating our offer again and what that looks like.

We've obviously been doing a lot of work over the last couple of years, particularly at Glentress. Really that I think serves to illustrate the potential that can exist from the sort of developments that we can do where we see them very much as enabling cornerstone-type developments that then allow wider activity to mushroom off them. That area is a very, very good example of exactly that. If you look at where Innerleithen was before 7stanes was developed, it's a very, very, very different place now. We've just completed a very significant investment, driven by a masterplan, at Glentress. We've all seen the really positive outcomes that have come from that, culminating with the UCI last year.

What we want to do now is reflect on that and move forward for the other sites and think about what do they look like? Now they won't all look the same. They're different sets of circumstances, different contexts. But we've started working with local communities in both Dalbeattie and Newcastleton, very much looking at what we can do with our site and how that then relates to what other people want to do and develop both in terms of the community engagement but also other business opportunities and how we can start to create that critical mass of activity that then allows us to move things forward and have a much more significant offer and, as has been said already, to raise the game. Very much an approach where we feel we can contribute through our management of the national forest estate to look at what we can do to facilitate, but very much see a lot of these opportunities and delivery being done through partnership and through private business as well. That's what we're looking to do.

We have a very good, strong record here in the south of working together. That was demonstrated through the delivery of the UCI and also through the work we've done on the masterplan. Worked very strongly with the local council and other key agencies to deliver that. Really for us it's one that moving forward we feel it's demonstrated a template that we can carry forward into the other sites so for the next couple of years that'll give us a very, very clear understanding of where we want to try and go with these sites and what the potential is of them in a wider context from the point of view of economic regeneration, tourism but also just social benefits and the other things that all these sites do deliver to the wider communities.

Rob Dickson

Thanks, John. That's very helpful. Comments on that one, thoughts at all?

Sounds as though it's over to you, John, to work with partners to deliver it.

Let me make two observations on this one, because it wouldn't have been possible three, four, five years ago probably to commit to something of this scale despite the fact there was the investment in 7stanes. The experience of developing the Glentress masterplan and the work that's been delivered, not just in relation to UCI but in relation to the whole view about the part that Forestry and Land Scotland's asset can play in that part of Scotland and supporting the cycling industry in the way that Professor Griggs talked about and Councillor Jardine talked about. We see this as having been a very, very effective template. I know FLS have probably at times been challenged by it but at times also found it successful. Ultimately the success has been borne of the investment in the masterplan, so I think this we see as being important in replicating that model to support other assets in the region and crucially to make the link explicit in this strategy to the visitor economy and to try and make sure that we get that benefit to be as strong as we possibly can in relation to that.

Any comments on that one? No. Okay. Next one, Gordon.

Gordon Smith

Food and drink is the next topic. It's always good to talk about food and drink after lunch, I feel.

The importance of local food and drink is key to our visitor experience. Within the South of Scotland, we have key producers and providers across our region engaged in tourism. We have trade events, such as Larder of the Lowlands, providing a platform for our regional food suppliers and to meet the buyers in that forum. We've seen the importance of food groups, such as Eat South West Scotland and the Scottish Agritourism Monitor Farm Programme, and links to food tourism develop and for the south to become a leader across Scotland. Within the paper, we also see linkages to regional and national strategies, including Scottish Government's Local Food for Everyone, Our Journey paper, and the opportunity for the south in the development of Regional Food Tourism Ambassadors and for more of that tourism food ambassador programme to be developed over the next few years.

Within the paper for discussion and ask today, we would like to acknowledge the scope of opportunity that food and drink can play in the visitor experience and for the benefit of local businesses and communities across the South of Scotland and, following the recent publication of the Scottish Government's Local Food for Everyone, Our Journey paper, that the South of Scotland and its food tourism offer is considered for future development in national initiatives including the Regional Food Tourism Ambassador Programme. Thirdly, given the wider impact and scale of the opportunity beyond tourism, that the subject of food and drink is considered in more detail at a future Convention of the South of Scotland. To help unpack more of the food tourism offer, I'm going to invite Mark Rowley, our Tourism Lead from South of Scotland Enterprise, to provide some input.

Mark Rowley

Yeah. Good afternoon. As Gail referenced this morning, I've got a gluttonous interest in food. Anyone who's looked at my Insta or my Twitter will see that I love running around this part of the world discovering new producers. It was mentioned this morning. We've already got it. We've got a huge chunk of Scotland's dairy. We've got hills packed full of natural game. We've got two coasts. We've got IMMA packed with langoustine and crab and we've got scallops over in Kirkcudbright. Up at Stranraer, we've got just about the only native oyster beds in Scotland. So we've got it. We've also got huge producers. The biggest manufacturers and packers of potatoes, vegetables, oats, barley are all in the South of Scotland. There's a huge resurgence. In the paper, the two new distilleries are mentioned. They're big employers, generating millions of pounds for the region. We've got an incredibly strong food heritage.

What we're not doing is getting enough of that local food onto local plates. Some people are doing it incredibly well, including a hotelier/restaurateur next to me up at Knockinaam Lodge. Lots of others are, but not everybody is. Local authorities are not always sourcing as much locally as they could do. I want to get to the stage - and I'm not going to bore you with my holiday anecdotes about how Cornwall gets it right, but it does. If you go into a bar in Cornwall, you will automatically be offered the local gin. If you want Tanqueray, it'll be at the back of the gantry and you need to ask for that.

I'd like to come back and do a session like we did on forestry - because I think this is really important - and just see what we can do for food in the region, because we have all of the building blocks here. David mentioned the recent Thistle Awards. The Silver Thistle went to the ethical dairy, just up the road from here, who have done magical things with rearing calves with their cows and producing some of the best cheese on the planet. That was the Silver Thistle Award for outstanding achievement. We've got the stuff. We just need to get the energy and the enthusiasm to use the fantastic produce we've got.

Thank you very much, Cabinet Secretary. In introducing this paper, you used the term culture and provenance. We have. We've got that provenance. I'll use the culture when we're talking about the Iron Age and the Roman stuff. I don't have to tell Ms Gougeon, who chairs the national board on agritourism, how important that is. We're an incredibly strong region for that. You've seen the map, Cabinet Secretary. You look at all of the dots. It's very, very heavy with agritourism dots in the South of Scotland. That strategy has got an ambition of not only doubling the number of agritourism businesses - which we're very likely to do here, because we've got lots of small farming enterprises - but also, for those businesses, at least half of them to be selling or using the produce from their own farm in their agritourism. But that's me.

Rob Dickson

Thank you, Mark. Cabinet...

Mairi Gougeon

Mark, you're so annoying. You ticked off all the points I was going to make there.

Because that's where I felt like, through this, just champing at the bit about agritourism [and where I was so] - oh, well, I would expect nothing less when I saw the Go Rural symbol there, because you're absolutely right. I would hope that everybody here today would endorse all the points there. I would absolutely welcome that further, more in-depth discussion about the wider food-and-drink offering, because absolutely agree with everything you've set out there. I think the huge potential for events like - Stranraer Oyster Festival, when you look what that has now become - what was that? About 25,000 visitors they had at the last one. Become a feature in my own family's diary, let alone anybody else's.

You were just touching on the culture point there and I think that is where it is so critical. It's such an important part of our culture and our heritage. In some places, it's about getting some of that back, so I think the more that we can do and really build on that - it sounds like you're probably the same as me, Mark. Whenever I'm away anywhere else, I'm pretty much dictated by where I'm going to get the food from that region. That pretty much marks out how my holidays or how my trips go. You're right. I think, across the South of Scotland, you have pretty much everything here from the coast to the agricultural offering. Yeah, just to say that I would endorse the recommendations that are set out there, but I think that further discussion on that would be really helpful as well.

Oh, and just actually - just while you mention - I see the local food strategy there too. But I think another important point that touches on, when you mentioned about the local authorities - well, one thing that we have that's out for consultation at the moment is the Scottish Government's Good Food Nation Plan. I hope everybody here and the organisations round the table take part in that and make their views known in relation to that, because I think it's - hopefully we get the plan in a really strong place to deliver it. Local authorities will, of course, then have to set out their own plans in relation to the Good Food Nation too, but I think it really just ticks the boxes of all of that and I think everything that we've talked about around the room today.

Rob Dickson

Thanks very much indeed for that support. Alison, do you want to go?

Alison Irvine

Thank you. Surely you're not surprised to hear the transport person talk about food and drink.

It was just to mention the opportunity that we have with brands like Caledonian Sleeper CalMac ferry services, ScotRail services, et cetera, for that bit of promotion work, which should be relatively simple for us to do. If the connections aren't being made, then you'll know where to come. Maybe part of your wider discussion later in the year.

Rob Dickson

It's a helpful point. It's a well-made point, Alison, but I think there's probably more that we could do on that.

Any other points on food and drink?

No. Okay, fifth and finally. I suspect not many people would have thought that this would appear as one of the asks when we considered the tourism heritage, but I'll let Gordon explain more.

Gordon Smith

Thanks, Rob. Okay. Within the paper, we also talk to the opportunity of Iron and Roman Age heritage. The paper highlights the vision to reach the full cultural and economic potential in the South of Scotland of our Iron Age and Roman heritage. There are areas of our story in the South of Scotland that are seriously under-investigated, under-told and undersold. As the paper outlines, we have the potential and the opportunity to further develop the visitor offer, including at specific sites and through immersive experiences. That could include a participatory archaeological dig within the South of Scotland.

The discussion and ask that the Convention of Scotland is asked to consider is the acknowledgement that the scope of opportunity that the Iron and Roman Age heritage presents to tourism in the South of Scotland and the strength of partnership across the agencies currently exploring the potential, that the Convention of the South of Scotland supports and assists partners to develop plans for a participatory archaeological dig in the South of Scotland to act as a potential catalyst to open up the Iron and Roman Age heritage offer to visitors in line with the ambition in the South of Scotland Responsible Tourism Strategy, and discusses and commits to support partners in the creation of a development plan for Iron and Roman heritage offer across the South of Scotland. I'm going to invite again Mark Rowley, Tourism Lead at South of Scotland Enterprise, and Gillian MacDonald from Historic Environment Scotland to provide some further input at this stage. Thank you.

Mark Rowley

Thank you, Gordon. There will be surprise that this has come up. I think Rob's right. It's because the stories are under-told and undersold. Whilst I always look to Cornwall as doing food and drink incredibly well, here I'm going to look to our neighbours in Northumberland who use heritage and archaeology incredibly well. There's even that fabulous new distillery at Wooler, Ad Gefrin, that came through the Borderlands Inclusive Growth Deal that is using a local historical story to promote its products but, at the same time, financing a dig on a Saxon site nearby and using all kinds of clever heritage.

Now I don't know how many people have been to the Trimontium Museum in Melrose, which is an absolute gem. I was there a few days ago and picked up a book, The Eagle and the Bear. I think just to put into context how important these two cultures are for this region, if I can just read a little bit from the back cover - for over three centuries, the inhabitants of North Britain faced the might of Rome, resulting in some of the most extraordinary archaeology in the world. That was here. This book explores the complex, often tumultuous and frequently brutal interaction between the world's first superpower and those of us who lived north of Hadrian's Wall.

We talk about inbound tourism. Four Roman emperors were known to have visited this region. It was so important. Now in those days, when it would take you about a year and you didn't have easyJet, that was quite a draw. It's because we're a borderland. We're a region of conflict and always have been. If Dr John Reid - who's the Chairman of Trimontium - was here, he'd hold up a map of the South of Scotland. On that map, dots just like agritourism dots would appear, but they would appear so numerous that the whole of the South of Scotland from Whithorn up to Edin's Hall Broch, almost on the east coast in my patch in Berwickshire, would be covered. We have literally thousands of cairns and hillforts, ditches and ramparts, a lot of it never examined before. The Roman stuff, some of it has been examined but not to the level of places like Vindolanda and Hadrian's Wall just a few miles to the south. Of course, we're linked with that, because we have Dere Street running straight through the two.

We think there's a huge opportunity, a huge opportunity to look at these two civilizations, to get involved in some participatory archaeology. There have already been pilots on that, projects like the 12 Towers of Rule that have had literally thousands of children and enthusiasts getting involved. That's why we've got the asks here. That magnificent mask that you see there - literally warehouses full of treasure came out of Newstead in 1905, 1907. There's probably a lot more there. we have a real opportunity to use that culture and heritage and those stories to entertain and interact with people when they're here but also to bring people here. If you can bring four Roman emperors here into the cold and wet to see what's happening, I'm sure we can bring an awful lot more Italians, Americans, French and German to come and hear our stories but also to see some of that heritage in its situation.

Rob Dickson

Thanks, Mark. Gillian, do you want to...

Gillian MacDonald

Thank you. Thank you for the invitation today. We've obviously been party to some discussions round this earlier. We're very keen to support.

My observation which I made earlier to Mark was this is absolutely an untold story, I would suggest, for this area. Lots of opportunity around it. But have you listened to the other aspects that have come up today? I just wondered if there was something wider in the whole built heritage, archaeological story of the area, which merits a bit further discussion and looking at on a bit of a wider basis to look at what are the experiences for visitors? Built heritage and historic sites is one of the key motivators for visitors to Scotland. We know that from international visitors. I think there's lots of opportunities round the Roman and Iron heritage, but I just wonder if the whole subject merits a bit of a wider discussion about the heritage offer in the area. The other aspects we've looked at are food and drink in the widest sense, cycling, forestry. Absolutely we are keen to work in partnership on this element, but I wondered if there's perhaps some further opportunity round the wider experience.

Rob Dickson

Thanks, Gillian. Russel, did you want to - sorry, and Jane.

Russel Griggs

Yeah, this is fascinating to me since we've got into it. The reason that four Roman emperors came was came to visit 40,000 Romans who lived in Melrose during Roman times. That's a lot more than people that live in Melrose today, so it was extraordinarily well populated by - so they came.

Why the opening a dig is so important? There is an archaeological tourism bit in this. People come from all over the world to get their knees [dirty and hands] and pay really a lot of money to come and do this. It adds not only to the story about it, but there's tangible evidence that it adds value to the tourism offer. If you've never seen it, John Reid's presentation that he does in this just blows your mind away. You're right. There are a thousand little dots across the South of Scotland. We have more Iron Age burial grounds. We have more of this. It's just because it's got buried in the mists of time in many ways. But if you went round the Borders today, Euan and Scott, there were probably more Romans living in the Borders in Roman time than there are living there today. It's fascinating. People love this type of stuff and come from all - and it's a different strand to the traditional tourism, if I call it that way, in the South of Scotland. It opens up a totally new market to us. Thanks, Rob.

Jane Morrison-Ross

Thank you. I'm smiling in part because I was meant to be with Mark at Trimontium last week. I didn't quite make it there, because I managed to kill an EV enroute that had to be recovered on the back of a truck.

But I'm so excited by this, actually excited by all of the asks of the convention today that have come forward in the tourism strategy. I think they are all equally important again. This one I think is - it's at that earlier stage in development as a strategic asset than some of the others like cycling. I think the idea Gillian put forward of looking at this in the round in its own right is a fantastic one.

We're already involved with partners like VisitScotland, SSDA, Dumfries and Galloway Council, Historic Environment Scotland, National Heritage Lottery Fund and Trimontium in looking at the potential for a Whithorn masterplan to look at the future of the museum there, how that could be expanded and how the unique archive at Whithorn could have a home that encouraged not just tourism - which is really important - but academic tourism as well, because the Whithorn archive, like the Trimontium, is unique. They have artefacts that are unrivalled anywhere else in the world, 50,000 of them that are coming back to Whithorn that had been dispersed across a number of universities. More are being found all the time actually that they didn't know they had.

There is a huge richness there. The conversation we've had with David and others is about that visitor journey across the South of Scotland, coast to coast, like the cycle that they could actually do it by bike as well, but to make sure that each of these treasures that we have has that area, has that importance, has that recognition and is on that map and is getting the support and that strategic support to develop a really innovative heritage trail that makes use of not just the physical tangible assets but the digital and technology ones as well. There is just so much potential.

Rob Dickson

Thank you, Jane and Russel. Colin, do you want to come in?

Colin Galbraith

Thank you very much. We're really interested in the eagle, not terribly sure about bears, he said, as Chair of NatureScot.

If I was to describe an area to you where you've got the best chance to see a golden eagle, red kite, wetlands, wild coastland and maybe beavers, you would probably immediately think of somewhere else. But that's actually here. The point I was going to make - and I think the point there makes it - is it's been people and wildlife, people and landscapes over millennia. I think that's what's quite unique here in terms of that long-term relationship. You've got the archaeological evidence. You've got the nature-based evidence. There is a real market in nature-based tourism. I think down here - I say down here as a Highlander originally - you can really sell this. You can sell it in a very accessible way. People in the North of England want to see red squirrel. They want to see a whole range of wildlife that is here. But I think that alliance, that that coexistence if you like between man, agriculture and nature is really what you can build on going forward. I'm very keen and very happy to help build that argument, build that case as it were. Thank you.

Rob Dickson

Thank you, Colin. Councillor Jardine?

Euan Jardine

Yeah. Thank you. I think again it's an untapped potential of this region that we're - and I think this is hopefully going to come forward. I actually got my DNA tested a few years ago and I came back as Arabian. They said apparently that's because there was slaves at the wall and building Hadrian's Wall. The whole heritage going back. If that's me, I'm sure there's many more going back. We've got that heritage.

But I think there's something else that we're missing. It's not in here. It's the border reivers. I think that is a really untapped partner that we've got. I remember doing a quiz. I think I was in Glasgow and we were doing a random quiz at an event. Somebody went, [reivers]. They could not say what it was, because they didn't understand what it was. But then when I told them after, they went, oh, we've never heard of that. That's so fascinating. Then they went on and they looked at it. I think if anything screams for a Netflix show, it's the border reivers. I wonder if we could - David Hope-Jones maybe as part of your TV work. Start pushing for that.

There's also another heritage that's not been touched on here. It's our sporting heritage in the South of Scotland. I think we've got a phenomenal - and especially if you look at rugby. Obviously Scotland destroyed England at the weekend. Obviously it was a coach from Galashiels was the coach. You know what I mean? Some of the top scorers in Scottish history are from the Borders as well. One of the most famous commentators in the world is from the Scottish Borders. The South of Scotland overall has this real heritage in sport. We've got the Jim Clark Museum which is a great tourism attraction. But there's so much more we could be doing with our sporting heritage. I sometimes think we sit in a bubble and don't push it out.

Here's one last example, so I named a street in Galashiels John Collins Crescent, because he was a footballer from Galashiels. At the door - and I think it was either 11 or number 10. They said - the people moved in. Loads of people kept coming to the door to get a picture of that door and number, because they were big fans of the sport. If that [can do] in one street, imagine what you could do for a whole region if you started doing that. I think sporting heritage, border reivers, Iron Age, Roman, there's a whole - things that we can start doing, so let's keep the passion and keep going.

Rob Dickson

Thank you, Euan. Anything else on Roman and Iron Age? We seem to have extended the discussion somewhat wider. I'm quite happy to talk about Scotland's win on Saturday for as long as you want.

Okay. Chris, I think you wanted to come in just on some skills.

Chris Brodie

Yeah, I've not been quite sure when the right time was to come in and talk about skills and workforce. I suspect it was about an hour ago, Rob, when you were asking for comments on the overall strategy, so apologies.

Can I maybe just begin by saying thanks to Rob, to Gordon, to Paula and all the colleagues in Team South for the presentations this afternoon? Also really grateful for the opportunity to contribute into the strategy. Greig Robson and Lawrence Durden, our Tourism Lead, have been involved in inputting to the workforce and skills elements. I'm really pleased to see their contributions in the strategy.

I also want to just echo the comments the Cabinet Secretary made at the outset about recognising the recruitment difficulties that we know the tourism sector's facing at the moment and what sits underneath those. We know, prior to Brexit, hospitality and tourism sector were a really important source of employment for people who were coming into Scotland from outside Scotland and in particular the EU. We know that that supply of people or tap of people has pretty much been turned off, first by the pandemic and then changes to migration. We know that labour shortages are impacting right across the economy at the moment, so that's why I think the comments you made on Friday about the importance of addressing economic inactivity and getting people back into work are really, really important.

I think what's exciting about this strategy is the focus on driving up - quality and value are two words that I've heard all the way through the discussions this afternoon. I think that focus on quality and value also helps us address some of the skills and recruitment challenges. Attracting international visitors and developing a year-round tourism offer is going to increase profitability. Profitability increases the ability of companies to recruit talent and retain talent importantly. We know that the commitment to improving the visitor experience is also going to bring with it a requirement for upskilling and reskilling and training programmes and mentoring programmes to supporting that. Bringing in inward investment I think is something can really quickly change customer perceptions of a place. It can also drive up standards very quickly. I was brought up in Pitlochry. The coming of Fonab House has really changed the food scene in Pitlochry in a way that had been static for 20 or 30 years.

To square off where we started this morning, the work that Russel introduced on housing is really important, because those 3,000 people that we hope to attract to work in the sector are going to need somewhere to stay.

Really looking forward to working with you in the months and years ahead, both to finalise the strategy and then get on with the job of implementation.

Rob Dickson

Thanks, Chris. That's a very helpful set of comments. Just want to conclude if there's nothing else. I don't think I've missed anybody. To try and summarise two key points. The first is that we deliberately sought to focus on five areas where we knew it would only be possible to make the progress that the strategy wants to make with the help of national agencies and national partners collaborating with the regional organisations in the south. I think the discussion this afternoon, as it did this morning, demonstrates the willingness to do that and actually the ambition that's here. I was struck on three or four occasions, as we discussed each of the areas in detail, just how willing people are to provide support and to be ambitious in respect of their own activities but in how it links to tourism.

Tourism is hugely enabling and empowering in terms of how far it can reach and what it can do. I think in a place like the South of Scotland as you indicated at the start, Cabinet Secretary, the potential of what this strategy can do for every part of the South of Scotland - for the residents in the South of Scotland, for the working-age population in the South of Scotland and, of course, for the visitors to it - should not be understated. I hope, in setting out the strategy and in the work that we've done and in the five specific actions that we've talked about, we have demonstrated that ambition and the potential of what can be achieved.

Of course, I hate to say it, David, but the easy bit was writing the strategy. The harder bit might be delivering the action plan and delivering it. That's where we're heading now. But the commitment that's been shown today I think rightly puts CoSS and the national agencies at the forefront of that. It's particularly helpful, as we start to work with more local agencies and local partners, to have that in place and to be able to point to that commitment from national actors in being able to deliver that ambition.

I think beyond what was on the slides on the commitment, there was the agreement around the food and drink, perhaps if not at the next CoSS then at a future CoSS. Also then I think we are coming back to skills and transport at the next CoSS anyway. We'll no doubt take the opportunity of linking tourism into that when we have that opportunity. I think that concludes all I can...

Màiri McAllan

Rob, thank you very much, both for introducing and summarising that section and taking us through it. Thank you to everybody who contributed to the discussion and principally to the strategy itself. I would echo your comments. It's ambitious. It's wide ranging whilst being focused. I think it's very exciting. Now the next challenge is delivery. In that regard, I very much welcome two things. One, your commitment to work with business within the region. I think that's the way that all of us as the public sector take forward what we need to do. Equally we've talked quite a lot today about the current financial circumstances, so I very much welcome your proposal for that innovative funding model. Be really keen to see how that goes forward. But I'm just so impressed, truly. It's so exciting to talk about your ratcheting up of ambition that you've already challenged yourself to do, which I think is great.

I would just finally echo a few points that were made there, firstly from Colin. I think a lot of us who live in the South of Scotland, we don't take it for granted, but we're accustomed to how peaceful and restorative it is to live here. Whereas lots of people are seeking that, a retreat from their everyday lives into that, so I think the more that you could highlight that within all of the five key areas, all the better. If we can help with that - through NatureScot, through FLS -  to promote, for example, the Dark Sky and everything that's just so wonderful about that, please let me know.

The other two points I wanted to make were your key objectives of extending the visitor season and having greater international visitors, I really welcome that focus. The question of how we attract the international visitors I think is an interesting one. I think the Iron Age work will certainly do that. But I thought Councillor Jardine's point about TV and culture as being a real enabler of that - look what Outlander has done for the Highlands. If we could have something equivalent for the South of Scotland, that would be brilliant. Again speak to the Scottish Government and we'll do everything we can to help with that.

The other point that I thought was really well made was Jane's about trails, because it strikes me that if we want to get those international visitors or people who are not as familiar with the area, ease is what they're looking for. The more we can spell out the offer - whether that's food and drink, heritage, history or all of those into a trail - all the better. I always think that's a helpful way to present these things.

But for me and on behalf of the government, thank you very much for the presentation. I think that brings that section to a close. We're going to take a short comfort break and we will come back. Our teams have been compiling the outcomes from today. We'll go through them and then we'll do a short forward look to the next meeting. Thanks.


Màiri McAllan

Thank you, folks, for sorting that out. Sorry, as I was saying, the first slide here speaks to the first item, the Regional Economic Partnership update. We went through that. I should say I'm not going to go through everything word for word here. But welcoming the progress made on those three grand challenges which I think we would all agree have also permeated all the other discussions from today, which I think speaks to their accuracy as the challenges. Some of the other priorities for RES and commit to actively working to support delivery and collaboration in this work, for example sharing expertise and knowledge and bringing together resources. If this isn't an example of that, then I don't know what is. Hopefully we can all agree to that.

We then moved on to discussion on forestry which is something which I find always elicits a lot of conversation, which I think is very good. We have, first of all, to acknowledge the unique economic, environmental and social opportunities in the South of Scotland [and that] in terms of forestry's contribution to our wellbeing economy, recognising the benefits of collaborating under the banner of Scotland's Natural Capital Innovation Zone. Lunch is over, but hopefully I get points for reading that out.

Collaborate through a joint meeting facilitated by Scottish Government bringing Scottish Forestry, FLS and REP partners and that, to try and continue the momentum, we'll try and do that before the autumn convention.

Fourth outcome was to demonstrate the impact of working together to deliver benefit and create wealth in local communities across the region.

I think we can have the next slide. Just before we go on to the next slide, does anybody want to mention any outcomes that they thought were discussed during forestry that haven't been repeated there? I might just add a couple and I can do this with the team afterwards. Just that offer to work with some of the teams on that biorefinery point that they mentioned. Scottish Government offering support in terms of data on ash dieback and some of the other climate change, resilience points for forestry in the South of Scotland. I'll add them in. Does anybody else have any others that they wanted to have reflected on forestry? Yes, Councillor Jardine.

Euan Jardine

Yeah thanks. I don't know if there's a strong enough point there about working with the communities that these are going in. I think there needs to be something in there about that collaboration. It's got all the other things, Scottish Government, Scottish Forestry, but there's nothing in there that specifically says communities. I think we need to do that, so whether we have a community spokesperson like Morag or someone else look at it. But I think that needs to be put in there.

Màiri McAllan

I think that's a really good point. It was certainly a central theme of the conversation, so we would want that to be reflected. Thanks, Councillor Jardine. Cab Sec?

Mairi Gougeon

It was literally just on that point. I was thinking that the communities were missing. I also don't know whether it's worth specifically mentioning Confor as part of that as well given the discussion we'd had earlier too.

Màiri McAllan

Yes, agree with that. If we can pick that up please - anybody else? Yes, Rob.

Rob Dickson

I wondered (D) if it might just be e.g. tourism. I don't want to be presumptuous and say it must be tourism, but I think there needs to be some practical case studies of that, of which one might be tourism. I'm not – I’m happy if it’s something else, but it might be tourism.

Màiri McAllan

Absolutely. Certainly the tenor of today's meeting, I think it would be apt to include tourism. We can include a couple of others as well.

Anybody else, comments on the forestry discussion?

Okay. If anything should occur to you afterwards, just let us know and we'll make sure that that's reflected.

We can move on to the tourism strategy. We went through the five key pillars of the strategy. There are outcomes against each of them, so bear with me and we will go through this.

First of all, just what we were asked to do in the paper. Welcome and endorse it. Recognise the potential of the South of Scotland in delivering to national strategies. Agree the contribution the convention can make to delivering the strategy through those wider national pieces of work. If we can move on please...

Okay, this refers to the first discussion that we had in respect of cycling. Acknowledging the scope of opportunity, home and abroad, and the level of activity being delivered. Committing to the development of more safe spaces to ride, that really came out in our conversation. I think we were able to speak to some of the investment going in there. Recognising the strength of the cycling strategy and the leadership shown as a strong foundation to build on. If that is the totality of the cycling slide, I would suggest we mention UCI somewhere just given the report that came out today and how much that speaks to the contribution this region made. Anybody else got comments on the cycling section before we move on? Yes?

Paula Ward

Yeah, I think it would be beneficial if we also recognised that we still have nine additional milestone projects that we're working through as part of the long-term strategy for delivery and that they'll be important.

Màiri McAllan

Absolutely. We'll make sure that's reflected. If there's more detail of that you want to give us, please do. We can build that in.

Paula Ward

Thank you.

Màiri McAllan

Anybody else?

Okay, we'll move on just given we've got four more to go through.

Road signage. I would say road signage and other signage, because I think we discussed how there's other private sector bodies we've been working with. Acknowledging the importance of it, how it can help the quality of the experiences and creating that strong sense of place. Secondly, committing to explore if there's an opportunity to update and strengthen the signage landscape with the quite-appealing branding of Scotland Starts Here. I think that captures the discussion there quite well, because it's that commitment to an ongoing piece of work. Everybody happy with that? Okay. Thank you.

Natural capital and forestry. We didn't have much of a conversation on this one, because I think everyone was quite happy with what was suggested within the paper. I'll not read that out. If anybody wants to add anything, please let me know now. Okay. Thank you.

Food and drink, we had a long conversation about this one. Everyone's appetite was being whetted a little. Acknowledge the scope of opportunity that food and drink can bring in the visitor experience for the benefit of our businesses and communities. Following recent publication of our government Local Food for Everyone, Our Journey, we need to centre the South of Scotland and its food tourism offer in the future development of national initiatives. I'd agree with that certainly. Given the wider impact and scale of opportunity beyond tourism, the subject of food and drink is considered in more detail at a future convention. That was certainly the additional outcome that was at the top of my mind. Would anybody like to add anything else? No. Okay. Thank you.

Iron Age and Roman heritage, acknowledging the scope of opportunity that this presents and particularly to tourism in the South of Scotland. Support and assist partners to develop plans for a participatory archaeological dig, noting that we thought that had a really strong opportunity to attract those international visitors. Commit to support partners in the creation of a development plan for the offer and note the potential for wider consideration of heritage as part of the action plan. Anybody want to add anything to that please? Okay. Thank you.

Mark Rowley

Sorry, could I ask for dig to be plural?

Màiri McAllan

Of course. Very good point. We'll do that. Thank you. Sorry, I didn't see you previously. We'll pick that up.

Next slide please. Okay, that's us. Thank you. Thank you for bearing with me through that. As I say, they're in draft. If anything should occur to you in the aftermath, let us know and we will make sure they're updated. They will be circulated. The Deputy First Minister will also receive a copy. That just allows me now with 15 minutes to spare to look forward to our next meeting. First of all, before I do that, can I just ask does anybody have anything - an AOB? It's not labelled as such within the agenda, but is there anything that anyone should like to put on the record today, perhaps for discussion at a future meeting?

Good. I think we've exhausted our conversations on today's topics then, but again if anything should occur to you, just let us know.

Our next CoSS meeting, which will be autumn '24, this will be hosted by Scottish Borders Council. I think it's going to take place in September this year. We will confirm the date as soon as we can. The agenda for the convention in autumn will include discussions on transport, infrastructure and possibly connectivity as part of that. I'd suggest that they are intrinsically linked, so it would probably be good to cover connectivity. We're also considering other topics including skills and that point about food and drink that came up today. Our senior officers group will continue to develop the agenda. Further arrangements for the autumn convention will be shared by officials as soon as possible. Just before closing, can I open up to members for any final suggestions for additional agenda items for that next meeting or indeed for those slightly further down the line?

Okay. Again if anything should come to mind, just let us know.

That just leaves me to, with 12 minutes to spare, thank you all very much again for what's been an excellent conversation. I was just speaking to Rob about how great it is that we have a forum like this where so many interests and those of us who have such a stake in the area can come together. I think the biggest outcome of it is that we're able to work a little faster to make the progress that we all want to make. That's certainly a good thing when there's so much opportunity to seize. Thank you very much. We will be in touch with a record of today and with a look forward. Have a safe journey home.


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