The consultation on the Future of Forestry in Scotland puts forward the Government's proposals for completing the devolution of forestry to Scotland, including new organisational arrangements, cross-border arrangements, and a modern legislative framework for the development, support and regulation of forestry.
The consultation was published on 31 August 2016 and ran until 9 November 2016.
A total of 604 responses were available for analysis, with the majority (82%) submitted by individual members of the public.
New organisational arrangements in Scotland
The proposal is to establish new governance arrangements which would result in the management of forestry in Scotland being fully accountable to the Scottish Ministers and to the Scottish Parliament. The functions currently performed by Forestry Commission Scotland ( FCS) would come into the Scottish Government as a dedicated Forestry Division within the Environment and Forestry Directorate. There is also a proposal to establish a new Executive Agency of the Scottish Government. This would be formed from the existing Forest Enterprise Scotland ( FES) and would be called 'Forestry and Land Scotland'.
Around 5 in 20 respondents agreed with the proposal, while 13 in 20 disagreed, and around 2 in 20 did not answer the question. There was a difference in the balance of opinion between individual and organisational respondents, with the majority of individuals who answered the question disagreeing with the proposals but the majority of organisations who answered the question agreeing. Amongst individual respondents around 4 in 20 agreed, around 15 in 20 disagreed, and around 1 in 20 did not answer. Amongst organisational respondents around 9 in 20 agreed, 4 in 20 disagreed, and 7 in 20 did not answer.
The three most frequently-made points by those disagreeing with the proposals were that the management of Scotland's forests:
- Should be or remain independent and be the responsibility of a stand-alone organisation which is separate from government.
- Should be managed by forestry experts/professionals, rather than by civil servants.
- Should sit within a single organisation and not be divided between two different bodies.
A number of respondents noted their support for the devolution of forestry but sometimes also noted that they did not agree with the model and/or structures currently proposed. Typically, these respondents agreed with the formation of the new Executive Agency but questioned the wisdom of moving the policy and regulatory functions into a division within the Scottish Government.
In terms of delivering the benefits of greater integration within the wider Scottish Government structure, respondents sometimes suggested issues that need to be considered for the benefits of integration to be realised. These included that professional staff must be retained and that the experience of current FCS staff should be suitably acknowledged in the new structure.
The consultation paper proposes that the initial focus of the new forest and land management agency would be on the development and management of the NFE and that, once established, the Scottish Government would consider how best to extend its remit. Many respondents stated a desire to see the focus on forestry maintained.
A number of respondents commented on the remit of a land agency. The focus was often on timber production, but with suggestions also including tourism, recreational use of forests, climate change mitigation and biodiversity programmes.
Effective cross-border arrangements
The consultation paper suggests three particular priorities for continuing collaboration and co-operation: forestry science and research; tree health; and common codes, such as the UK Forestry Standard and the Woodland Carbon Code. Around 11 in 20 respondents agreed with the proposed priorities, while around 2 in 20 disagreed, and around 8 in 20 did not answer the question  .
Those respondents who did not agree tended to highlight areas for co-operation additional to those in the proposal. The most frequently identified functions included inventory / forecasting and international policy.
In terms of how cross-border arrangements might be delivered effectively to reflect Scottish needs, almost all who commented agreed that Scotland should take a lead on certain arrangements and that a Memorandum of Understanding could be appropriate.
A number of respondents commented specifically on the retention of the Forest Research agency, either with its current focus on science and research or as an agency which could potentially also deliver other cross-border activities.
Legislation and regulation
The consultation paper explains that the Scottish Government intends to introduce primary legislation in the Scottish Parliament and make appropriate administrative arrangements to complete the devolution of forestry. Around 11 in 20 respondents agreed with the proposal to place the Scottish Ministers under a duty to promote forestry, while around 2 in 20 disagreed, and around 7 in 20 did not answer the question.
The importance of sustainable forest management was a key theme of many responses, including the suggestion that the current range of duties should be updated to include the contribution forestry can make to sustainable development . Comments included that there should be provision for community engagement and rural development and that sporting or recreational activity should be given a greater focus. It was also suggested that the current proposals have too great a focus on the economic issues and productive forestry and there should be a more specific elaboration of social and environmental objectives. However, other respondents suggested that the importance of the economic element has sometimes been overlooked.
The proposal to remove the current restriction in the Forestry Act 1967 that all activities on NFE land must be tree-related was the principle most likely to attract comment. Respondents often noted that they agreed with the proposal. However, queries were raised as to how net loss of capacity would be avoided, and how accountability and transparency would be assured.
The consultation paper notes that this consultation marks the start of processes to assess the equalities, business and regulatory, privacy and environmental impact of the plans.
Points raised by those commenting on equalities often focused on increasing employment opportunities for women and young people. Other comments tended to focus on community engagement and/or increasing access to the forest estate.
Most of those who had a clear view thought the proposals would increase costs and burdens, particularly if current UK functions are duplicated in Scotland. It was also suggested that there would be additional costs associated with a new land management agency. Reasons given to suggest costs or burdens may not increase included that management and regulation will be simpler.
Only a small number of respondents commented on the possible impact on the privacy of individuals and comments tended to focus on information and data-related challenges, including in relation to staff-related data.
Regarding the possible environmental impact of the plans, it was suggested that, since the NFE and other woods and forests cover 20% of Scotland's land area, the potential impact of changes in forestry activities could be significant, and that these should be assessed through the Strategic Environmental Assessment ( SEA) process. Respondents who expected neutral or broadly positive environmental outcomes, often pointed to the importance of better integration and the management principles that should be employed on NFE land.
Respondents were, however, more likely to highlight subjects they saw as posing a risk of a negative environmental impact. Most frequently-noted amongst these were: loss of FCS expertise; increased focus on productivity; and trees being planted in inappropriate locations.