The future of forestry in Scotland: consultation analysis
Analysis of responses to the public consultation on the future of forestry in Scotland. Report by Craigforth.
Chapter 1: New organisational arrangements in Scotland
The first chapter of the consultation paper asked four questions about the Scottish Government's proposals for new organisational arrangements in Scotland.
At present, the two main parts of the Forestry Commission in Scotland are Forestry Commission Scotland ( FCS) and Forest Enterprise Scotland ( FES). The latter is an agency of the Forestry Commission and, for national accounting purposes, is designated as a public corporation by the Office of National Statistics. Both FCS and FES are funded by the Scottish Government, via the budget approved by the Scottish Parliament, and operate as part of the Scottish Government's Environment and Forestry Directorate. However, they are not Scottish public bodies. FCS promotes forestry, advises on and implements forestry policy, administers grants and regulates the forestry sector. FES is a land management body with responsibility for managing the Scottish Ministers' National Forest Estate ( NFE).
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 FCS would come into the Scottish Government as a dedicated Forestry Division within the Environment and Forestry Directorate. FCS already operates as part of the Directorate and this would formalise that arrangement. There is also a proposal to establish a new Executive Agency of the Scottish Government. This would be formed from the existing FES and would be called 'Forestry and Land Scotland'.
Proposals for a dedicated Forestry Division and an Executive Agency
Question 1a: Our proposals are for a dedicated Forestry Division in the Scottish Government ( SG) and an Executive Agency to manage the NFE. Do you agree with this approach?
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 respondents (of whom around 4 in 20 agreed, around 15 in 20 disagreed, and around 1 in 20 did not answer), and organisational respondents (of whom around 9 in 20 agreed, 4 in 20 disagreed, and 7 in 20 did not answer). Further details of responses to Question 1a by respondent type may be found in Annex 2.
Question 1b: Please explain your answer.
Around 500 respondents went on to make a comment at Question 1b. Of these, around 340 respondents had answered No to Question 1a and around 135 respondents had answered Yes. There were also respondents who explained they had been unable to select either Yes or No answer. Reasons given included that they could see both positive and negative effects, or that they had been given only one opportunity to answer what they saw as two distinct questions concerning a Forestry Division and the creation of an Executive Agency.
Points raised by those disagreeing with the proposals
The three most frequently-made, and often inter-connected points, 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; and should sit within a single organisation and not be divided between two different bodies.
Where comments were made relating to separation from government, this was frequently based on a view that the current arrangements work well and that the Forestry Commission is doing a good job. Further comments on this issue tended to be brief and often focused on a general opposition to the centralisation of, or political involvement in, the management of Scotland's forests. These generally appeared to be about the dedicated Forestry Division within the Scottish Government rather than the Executive Agency  .
A small number of respondents made specific points in support of their case including that staff in a dedicated Forestry Division would come under a degree of political control and be required to implement the policy of the government of the day (Ind). Respondents also suggested that, while forestry requires long-term planning, governments inevitably have a more short-term outlook driven by electoral considerations (Ind, O).
Other comments included that:
- Any new organisation would need to be able to work across many departments and interests both within and outwith government. To do that it would need to sit outside, or at arm's length, from government (Th).
- Without statutory protection, a dedicated Forestry Division could, in time, lose its identity and professional focus, for example through merger with other Divisions (O, Th).
Proposals for alternative organisational structures and governance arrangements made by some respondents are outlined later in this section.Many respondents argued that forestry should be managed by experts, often making clear that this was 'as distinct from' civil servants working within the Scottish Government  . The comments made were often brief, but sometimes included a concern that the specific skills held by those working in the forestry industry may be eroded in the long term. The subject of retaining professional skills and knowledge of forestry within the proposed new forestry structures is covered in detail under Question 3.
Many respondents stated their preference for a single organisation to oversee forestry in Scotland. There were also references to the good reputation of the existing Forestry Commission, its long history, and the value of its trusted brand (Ind, O, Th). Others noted they did not feel the case has been made for separating the parts of the existing Forestry Commission, with some detailing concerns about the separation of the policy and regulatory functions from operational management (Ind, O, Th).
In addition to the most-frequently raised issues outlined above, a number of other common themes emerged from the analysis of further comments made by those who disagreed with the proposals. A number of respondents, primarily from among those who disagreed with the proposal, suggested that care should be taken to ensure that adverse outcomes experienced as a result of restructuring elsewhere do not happen in Scotland. Particular reference was made to recent changes in Wales (Ind, O) where Forestry Commission Wales was merged with other bodies (Environment Agency and Countryside Council) with policy and grant administration transferring to the Welsh Government. Respondents felt that this has led to considerable problems including a reduction in tree planting, a dilution of forestry expertise, and costs associated with insufficient forward planning for the transition (Ind, O).
Alternative models suggested by respondents
A small number of respondents, while noting their acceptance of, or support for the devolution of forestry, sometimes also noted that they did not agree with the model and/or structures currently proposed (Ind, O, Th). Typically, although not universally, these respondents agreed with the formation of the new Executive Agency but opposed, or at least questioned, the wisdom of moving the policy and regulatory functions of FCS into a division within the Scottish Government. Reasons given tended to reflect many of the concerns already outlined above, such as becoming subject to short-term, political influence and the consequences of the loss or dilution of expertise.
A small number of respondents went on to suggest alternatives to the consultation proposals. Most of those who suggested an alternative structure preferred to see FCS and FES placed in a single body, although, as set out below, a range of different arrangements were proposed.
One suggestion was for a single body within a government department, encompassing all the current functions of FCS and FES (O).
Alternatively, a single Executive Agency  covering all the current functions of FCS and FES was also proposed (Ind, O, Th). Some respondents suggesting this approach pointed to Transport Scotland as an existing example of where policy and implementation sat in the same body (Ind, O). Within the proposed forestry agency, it was suggested that the governing Framework Document would provide for any necessary separation of functions (Ind, O).
Other respondents specified that creating a Non Departmental Public Body ( NDPB), like Scottish Natural Heritage ( SNH) or the Scottish Environment Protection Agency ( SEPA), would be their preferred arrangement - sometimes indicating that it would be better to be at arm's-length from Government (O, Pr).
Another proposal was for two separate agencies (Pu, Th). It was suggested that a new land management agency should be created as proposed in the consultation paper alongside a second agency to continue the forest policy and regulatory work currently carried out by FCS (Th).
Finally, a small number of other approaches were suggested. One of these was that FES should be set up as an independent company, wholly owned by the Scottish Government. It would be charged with the effective, commercial management of the NFE and, where it was directed to undertake non-commercial activities, those activities would be supported by direct grant from the Scottish Government (Pr). Another suggestion was that FCS should complete its devolution and become a public authority, remaining a non-ministerial department. FES as an agency of FCS would become a Scottish Public Corporation to manage the NFE (Th).
Points raised by those agreeing with the proposals
Respondents who agreed with the proposals ( i.e. those who had answered Yes at Question 1a) tended to make only brief further comments. Most frequent amongst these were that:
- Change is necessary to rectify various problems with the existing bodies or structures.
- The proposed changes reflect the importance of the forestry industry in Scotland and will help to ensure policy in this area is better integrated across government.
- Scotland's forests should be under Scottish Government control. Respondents making this point sometimes made no further comment.
A frequent view was that the separation of the Forestry Division and Executive Agency was both appropriate and necessary. A number of respondents agreed that it is important to maintain separation between forestry policy/regulatory functions and the management/delivery role (Ind, O, Pu, Th).
Delivering the benefits of greater integration within the wider Scottish Government structure
Question 2a: In bringing the functions of FCS formally into the Scottish Government, how best can we ensure that the benefits of greater integration are delivered within the wider Scottish Government structure?
Question 2b: What additional benefits should we be looking to achieve?
A total of 345 respondents answered Question 2a, of whom 233 went on to make an additional comment at Question 2b. A small number of respondents (17) answered only Question 2b. Since the content of the responses to (a) and (b) overlap considerably, the following analysis considers both together.
Many respondents made only brief comments, sometimes reiterating their general opposition to the proposal to bring the function of FCS into the Scottish Government, while others explained the reasons for their reservations in more detail. The analysis looks primarily at issues which relate specifically to Question 2, namely the benefits of greater integration.
Promoting forestry links to with the wider policy framework
A number of respondents agreed with the proposition set out in the consultation document that bringing the policy and regulatory functions of FCS into the Scottish Government as a division within the Environment and Forestry Directorate could enhance links with other policy areas (Ac, O, Pr, Pu, Th). However, it was also noted that FCS has already been working to deliver Scottish Government policies for a number of years (O).
Respondents sometimes went on to suggest issues that need to be considered for the benefits of integration to be realised. These included that:
- Well-resourced professional staff must be retained (O, Pr, Pu) and the professionalism and experience of current FCS staff should be suitably acknowledged in the new structure (O).
- Lessons must be learned from the merging of Forestry Commission Wales with other public bodies in Wales (Ac, Ind, O, Pr).
- FCS staff concerns should be recognised, in particular in relation to possible changes to the 'delivery culture' that a move to a larger organisation might make (Ind, O).
- The value of the close links between FCS and FES, allowing for practical arrangements such as sharing of some office facilities, should not be underestimated (Ind, O).
Specific points made about the proposed new structure included that:
- Movement of staff between a strong forestry division and other policy arms of the Scottish Government would allow the forestry team to expand its experience, and would also facilitate staff in other parts of the Scottish Government learning more about the importance of forestry (Ac, O, Pr).
- The skills and knowledge of those working in the Forestry Division would also be enhanced by promoting interchange of staff between the division and the forest management agency (O, Pr, Pu). This issue was also raised by a number of respondents at Question 3.
- Given the geographical spread of forestry, it is important that both the Forestry Division and Agency elements keep a local presence (Pu, Th).
- The separation of the existing FCS and FES should provide greater transparency and accountability. The new arrangements must support this accountability with clear direction from Ministers being essential (O, Pr, Th).
- The Land Use Strategy will be central to bringing policy areas, including forestry, into better alignment (Ac, O, Pr, Pu, Th) and forms the basis for forward planning with other interests, drawing on the experience of the Rural Affairs, Food and Environment Delivery Board  (Th).
A number of respondents noted that the NFE has the potential to provide an increased range of economic, environmental, social and health benefits, particularly to rural communities (Ac, Ind, O, Pr, Pu, Th), although some were concerned that the proposal did not mention recreational activities specifically (O).
A number of respondents highlighted the desirability of woodland creation and the planting of more trees, including to meet the 2020 forestry planting target (Ind, Pr, Th). The value of allowing NFE timber sales revenue to be reinvested in woodland creation was highlighted (Ind, O).Other respondents also identified the potential for practical administrative benefits, particularly if the processes associated with grant and licence applications (Ind, Pr, Th) or other approvals such as Prior Notification and Environmental Impact Assessment ( EIA) determinations (Ind, Pr) could be streamlined or improved.
Finally, it was suggested that there are potential benefits to be gained through integration with fisheries and fishing opportunities. It was noted that the NFE includes a significant number of fisheries, including salmon fisheries, and could play an important role in improving public access to fisheries in the future (Pr).
The Forestry Commission Brand
A small number of respondents raised concerns about the loss of the FCS brand, with further points including that the brand has value in promoting public understanding of forestry and that the organisation remains the face of the forestry sector for many (O, Pr).
It was suggested that careful thought should be given to the manner in which the brand transition is communicated to the public and that this could provide an opportunity to explain the growing role of privately-owned forests and woodland in the provision of public benefits (Pr).
A number of respondents made comments on the governance arrangements needed for the new bodies, both at Questions 1b and 2. These included that a board should have external members including forestry experts, and that board composition should be enshrined in the Forestry Bill and should not just be by government appointments (Ind, O, Th). A further suggestion was that such boards should be representative of social, environmental and economic interests (Th).
With particular regard to the oversight of the new forest management agency, a small number of respondents suggested that arrangements should be the same as for other agencies in Scotland, with non-executive members on the agency management board, and a non-executive chairing an agency audit and risk committee (Ind, O, Pr). It was also suggested that the members should include at least one representative from both the private and third sectors and that this would help ensure that the agency delivers its objectives while involving different stakeholders (Ind, O, Pr).
For oversight of the Forestry Division, it was suggested there should be a similar group to the current Customer Representative Group, as well as an Advisory Group of stakeholders, with private sector representation, for the whole of the parent Directorate (O, Pr).
Maintaining professional skills and knowledge of forestry
Question 3: How should we ensure that professional skills and knowledge of forestry are maintained within the proposed new forestry structures?
A total of 370 respondents made a comment at this question. A significant minority of these respondents (around 1 in 3) repeated that they disagreed with the proposals altogether and made little further comment. Others who disagreed suggested that retaining the current approach would provide the best means of achieving the desired aim of maintaining skills and knowledge, including because a post in the wider civil service would not necessarily be attractive to highly experienced or qualified forestry specialists (O, Pr, Th).
The remaining respondents, who often noted that providing professional expertise was indeed of central importance, made a range of points concerning: retaining experienced FCS and FES staff; professional development for foresters; education and training in forestry; and requirements for other specialist staff.
Retaining experienced staff
Several respondents noted the intention to transfer existing FCS and FES staff into the new bodies, but suggested that it was essential that steps were taken to ensure this expertise is not lost. Proposed measures to achieve this included:
- Providing reassurance about the structure of the new organisations, how existing staff will fit into these, and the transition process (Pu).
- Creating a position of 'Chief Forester for Scotland' or 'Head of Forestry', held by someone with knowledge and expertise in forestry, to provide a recognised focus or figurehead (Ind, O, Pr, Th). A specific suggestion was that an emphasis should be placed on the post-holder having commercial and industrial experience (Pr).
- Specifying forestry qualifications as a requirement for designated posts (Ind, O, Pr).
- Specifically retaining staff with forestry expertise within the Forestry Division rather than moving them on to cover other policy areas in the civil service (O).
- Offering salaries that are competitive with the private sector (Ind, O).
It was also suggested that it is important that the Regional Forestry Forums are continued so that their breadth of experience and perspective on many forestry issues is preserved and that, for FLS, the value of local offices should be recognised and maintained (Th).
The importance of allowing and/or encouraging staff to gain additional skills and experience by moving between the proposed Forestry Division and FLS, as they currently do between FCS and FES, was frequently noted (Ind, O, Pr, Pu, Th). It was also suggested that it would be beneficial to promote appointments, exchanges or secondments between Government bodies and the private sector (Ac, Ind, O, Pr, Pu). Other suggestions included:
- The Institute of Chartered Foresters ( ICF) and organisations such as the Royal Scottish Forestry Society could play an important role in professional development and providing learning opportunities (O, Pr, Th).
- Staff should be encouraged to seek professional accreditation, such as chartered membership of ICF, and that this qualification should be required for appointment to some professional posts (Ind, O, Pr, Th).
- Chartered membership of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors would be appropriate for land agents (Ind).
- There should be a professional career structure for foresters, with provision of resources for professional development (Ind, O, Pu).
Education and training
It was also suggested that there is an urgent requirement to invest in forestry education and training. A number of respondents commented that, as an industry, forestry was struggling to attract younger entrants (Ind, O, Pr, Pu). Concerns were also expressed about further and higher education opportunities. For example, it was reported that Aberdeen University has recently withdrawn two forestry degree courses (Ac).
Specific suggestions for enhancing education and training opportunities included that apprenticeships and national vocational level courses should be available (Ind, O, Pr, Th) and that academic institutions should be encouraged to offer forestry courses (Pr, Pu).
Other specialist staff
While recognising the importance of trained foresters, several respondents noted the new bodies would also need staff with other specialist qualifications and skills particularly in the event of the eventual extension of the role of FLS (Ac, Ind, O, Th).
Other respondents noted that there are many staff in the existing bodies with skills other than forestry and that these must also be maintained (Pr, Th).
A future land agency for Scotland
Question 4: What do you think a future land agency for Scotland could and should manage and how might that best be achieved?
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. Once this body was established, the Scottish Government would consider how best to extend its remit to maximise the benefits of publicly owned land to the nation.
A total of 335 respondents answered Question 4. Around 30 of these answers were very brief, sometimes repeating points made at earlier questions about leaving matters in the hands of the Forestry Commission. A small number of respondents commented that further detail on the proposals for a land agency would have been helpful, or was required, in order to answer the question posed (Ind, Pu, Th).
A number of respondents commented on the name of any future land agency. A small number of respondents understood the wording of the question to suggest an intention to omit the word 'forestry' from the title of this future agency, and expressed concern that an emphasis on forestry might also be lost. In contrast, other respondents clearly assumed the future agency being discussed to be called Forestry and Land Scotland, referring to it as such in their comments. Some respondents expressed disappointment that this name had been chosen to replace FCS/ FES, while others suggested alternative names for a proposed agency including the 'Land Service for Scotland' and the 'Agency for Sustainable Land Use' (Ac, Ind, O, Pr, Th).
When considering what an agency could and should manage, the majority of respondents answered the question in terms of the categories of land that might be brought under the management of a proposed land agency, although some commented on specific subject areas.
Categories of land
In line with the proposal, the NFE was the most frequently suggested type of land, followed by Crown Estate land (Ind, O, Pr, Pu, Th) and SNH land, including National Nature Reserves (Ind, O, Pr, Pu, Th). Other less-frequently made suggestions were: Crofting estates land (Ind, O, Pr, Pu, Th); Local Authority land (Ind, Pr): Ministry of Defence land (Ind, O); Historic Scotland sites (Ind, O); Scottish Government agricultural estates (Ind, O, Th); and NHS land (O).
Further comments on the future of the NFE as part of a land agency included that the focus on delivery of timber and environmental and social benefits across the NFE should not be lost (Th), and that any responsibilities for managing non-forest land should not detract from its management of forest land (Ind, O). It was suggested that any significant departures from that policy should be accompanied by a clear rationale (Pu).
Other suggestions included that:
- There should be more management input from forestry professionals from the commercial sector (O).
- Any new agency must have responsibility for making best use of all land within the NFE management area and that this could provide opportunities for local communities or farmers to use non-forested areas (Pu).
- The NFE should be managed to maximise the public benefit, particularly in terms of economic development (Pu, Th). This could include more emphasis on developing productive forestry on a smaller scale (Th).
In addition, a small number of respondents queried how the business activity of wood production would be handled on transfer of the management of the NFE from FES to a new executive agency (O, Pr).
Although the central concern of many respondents was on maintaining a focus on forestry, those commenting on the possible future management of National Nature Reserves ( NNRs) by a land agency had rather different concerns. Issues raised included that there should be a systemic recognition of the distinctive approaches required to achieve the different objectives of each group of landholdings (Th). It was also suggested that the agency should be a land management body, not a timber producing one, and be subject to existing duties such as the Biodiversity Duty and the Climate Change Duty (Th).
It was suggested the crofting rights of crofting communities on publicly-owned crofting estates are statutorily established but that a pro-active agency could be beneficial. However, it was also suggested that consideration could be given to creating other forms of land tenure and use on land in public ownership. It was noted that the Crofting Reform (Scotland) Act 2007 provides the opportunity to create new crofts and it was suggested that this policy objective could be more readily realised by an agency with a wider land use and management remit (Pu).
It was suggested that the transfer of Council-owned or locally-held assets into a centralised land management unit would seem to be ill advised, and at odds with Community Empowerment Policies. It was also suggested that the proposed legislation may grant Ministers this option without this issue being fully considered, and without full and informed consultation with Councils and communities (O).
A small number of respondents commented on brownfield land, although the positions taken diverged. One view was that a future land agency should focus on ensuring brownfield development opportunities are utilised (Ind). Another was that the costs and risks associated with such land are significant and transferring large areas of brownfield land to a new agency could be problematic (Ind).
A number of respondents made suggestions for different sectors that a land agency might co-ordinate or manage (Ind, O, Pu, Th). The focus of many of the comments was on timber production, while other respondents suggested: recreation; deer management; climate change mitigation; climate monitoring and research; flood mitigation/prevention; riparian systems; biodiversity and conservation programmes; 'rewilding' of upland areas; reintroduction of keystone species; upland sporting land use; stalking schemes and sporting leases; management of certain pest species; historic environment; very small scale woodland operations; community woodland in and around towns; food forests; purchasing land parcels to split up into lease opportunities for start-up farmers; and tourism event development.
Principles for a new agency
A number of respondents suggested the principles on which a land use agency should operate, what they thought the main aims should be, or advantages they could foresee. These included that publicly-owned land should be managed in the public interest and for the common good (Th). Specifically, it was suggested that while recognising that commercial forestry is important to the rural economy, the impact on other crucial ecosystem services needs to be minimised (Th).
On a similar theme, a number of respondents commented that the agency should provide leadership and a clear commitment to integrated land management across the publicly-owned estate. It was suggested that this should involve the development and demonstration of best practice in land management across all types of land use (Ind, O, Th). It was also suggested that public land represents the best opportunity for integrated management, which demonstrates best practice in the delivery of multiple benefits such as ecosystem services, biodiversity and social factors such as recreation (Th).
Other comments about how a land agency should operate included that it could address different policy areas, such as the Land Use Strategy and land reform measures, in a coherent way (Th), should provide greater opportunity for flexible land use (Pr), and should have a role in supporting sustainable local development (Pu).
It was also suggested that the agency should encourage and facilitate co-operation between the public and private sectors (O) and that there needs to be parity with the private sector in terms of support and regulatory burdens (O).
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