Publication - FOI/EIR release

Information relating to Biomass energy: EIR release

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

Published:
13 Oct 2021
Information relating to Biomass energy: EIR release
FOI reference: FOI/202100228668
Date received: 5 Aug 2021
Date responded: 16 Sep 2021
Information requested
  • How much forestry is cut down in Scotland on a weekly basis, in terms of area, and a breakdown of which specific regions this relates to?
  • How much forestry is replanted in Scotland, following the deforestation mentioned above?
  • How much of this deforestation is related to Biomass?
  • Which companies have received support, and how much did they receive, from the Scottish government in relation to Biomass development?
  • How much of our Scottish energy is derived from Biomass?
  • Can you explain the rationale for classing Biomass as a renewable energy source and a ‘green’ option?
Response

I have provided answers to some of the information you have asked below.

In response to

  • How much forestry is cut down in Scotland on a weekly basis, in terms of area, and a breakdown of which specific regions this relates to?
  • How much forestry is replanted in Scotland, following the deforestation mentioned above?
  • How much of this deforestation is related to Biomass?

While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance the Scottish Government does not have the information you have requested. Therefore we are refusing your request under the exception at regulation 10(4)(a) of the EIRs. This is because the Scottish Government does not collect data on the felling of trees on a weekly basis or it's final usage, as this is for the owner/manager to determine.

The term deforestation generally means the permanent removal of trees, as opposed to the normal harvesting practices as part of any sustainable forest management. Tree felling in Scotland is covered by a Felling Permission or a Long Term Forest Management Plan (or an exemption), and there are conditions attached to the permission either to replant or in certain circumstances (such as for specific habitat restoration) agreement not to replant. The information and links below sets this position out in more detail and provides links to information already published which may be of interest.

The Scottish Government is committed to protecting and minimising the loss of trees and woodlands in Scotland. The Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Act 2018 provides Scottish Ministers with powers to regulate tree felling in Scotland. Our approach to Sustainable Forest Management is set out in the UKFS Scottish Forestry - UK Forestry Standard (UKFS).

To help control tree felling, anyone wishing to fell trees in Scotland requires a Felling Permission from Scottish Forestry unless an exemption applies, such as for trees in gardens or small quantities of timber. It is an offence to fell trees without a Felling Permission where exemptions do not apply. Felling Permissions generally have conditions to require the replacement of felled trees. Scottish Forestry - Felling Permission.

Where a landowner does not wish to restock the felled trees in the location they were felled there is a possibility of restocking an alternative site. This would have to done in agreement with Scottish Forestry.

If an applicant wishes to deforest a site then Scottish Forestry would have to assess the proposals under The Forestry (Environmental Impact Assessment) (Scotland) Regulations 2017.

Woodland removal should be kept to a minimum and where woodland is felled, it should be replanted. The Scottish Government’s Control of Woodland Removal policy only supports woodland removal where it would achieve significant and clearly defined public benefits. In some cases compensatory planting may form part of this balance.

Forestry Statistics is the official source of information for a range of information, such as woodland creation, timber harvested, and trade. Forestry Statistics 2020 - Forest Research.

The National Forest Inventory (NFI) is a rolling programme designed to provide accurate information about the size, distribution, composition and condition of our forests and woodlands and also about the changes taking place in the woodlands through time. National Forest Inventory - Forest Research.

Scottish Forestry publish annual statistics on annual woodfuel demand and usage in Scotland. It also examines potential future demand in the non-domestic and domestic sectors. Woodfuel Demand and Usage in Scotland, 2019 (1).pdf.

The majority of woodfuel used in Scotland is virgin fibre, sawmill co-products and residues and recycled fibre. Virgin fibre in this instance is primarily small roundwood – i.e. the parts of trees, harvested from plantations in Scotland or Northern England, that are too small a diameter or too mis-shapen to process as sawn timber. Sawmill co-products and residues are primarily the parts left over from converting round logs to square boards along with sawdust.

In response to

  • Which companies have received support, and how much did they receive, from the Scottish government in relation to Biomass development?

Scottish Forestry, and it’s predecessor Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) have provided support to develop the biomass sector in Scotland, including forest owners, processors and users. The last major scheme that FCS administered was Scottish Biomass Heat Scheme (SBHS) ended in 2011/12. We no longer hold records of which organisations received grants under the SBHS. Businesses, organisations and domestic properties also received the Renewable Heat Incentive, however that scheme is administered by the UK Government. We do not hold data of organisations who received the Renewable Heat Incentive.

The Scottish Government does provide some grant funding for biomass development through the Harvesting and Processing Grant.

The Harvesting and Processing Grant has supported 33 projects (28 unique applicants), to increase woodfuel production across Scotland through the Forestry Grant Scheme since 2015. The grant value of this support is £388,799, equating to public/private investment in the sector of £972k.

I have attached a spreadsheet providing some of the information you have asked for. An exception under regulation 11(2) of the EIRs (personal information) applies to some the information requested because it is personal data of a third party and disclosing it would contravene the data protection principles in Article 5(1) of the General Data Protection Regulation and in section 34(1) of the Data Protection Act 2018. This is because some of the grant awards have been issued to sole traders and not companies and the grants have been issued under their own name. This exception is not subject to the 'public interest test', so we are not required to consider if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exception.

In response to

  • How much of our Scottish energy is derived from Biomass?

The latest figures for heat and electricity production from biomass are available from Scottish Energy Statistics Hub (shinyapps.io). Under regulation 6(1)(b) of the EIRs, we do not have to give you information which is already publicly available and easily accessible to you in another form or format.

In response to

  • Can you explain the rationale for classing Biomass as a renewable energy source and a ‘green’ option.

Biomass provides two main routes to mitigate climate change and reduce emissions. First, as a carbon sink, it helps by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it for long periods of time in soils, trees and other plants. Second, as a renewable energy source, it helps by directly displacing oil, coal and natural gas use or by decarbonising the fuel source for the production of materials such as steel and cement. Utilising biomass for energy does create emissions but these are equal to or less than the amount of CO2 which was absorbed when growing the biomass. This makes the carbon cycle effectively neutral and the process can be repeated so long as the feedstock is sustainably sourced.

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