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 2: Effective cross-border arrangements

Chapter 2 of the consultation paper lists the various functions that currently operate on a cross-border basis, namely: Forest science and research; Tree health; the UK Forestry Standard; the Woodland Carbon Code; Inventory / forecasting / operational support; Economics; Statistics; and International forestry policy. It goes on to set out what the Scottish Government considers to be three particular priorities for continuing collaboration and co-operation:

1. Forestry science and research.

2. Tree health.

3. Common codes, such as the UK Forestry Standard and the Woodland Carbon Code.

The consultation includes three related questions on what the priorities should be and how they should be achieved.

Priorities for cross-border co-operation

Question 5: Do you agree with the priorities for cross-border co-operation set out above, i.e. forestry research and science, plant health and common codes such as UK Forestry Standard? Y/N

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 [10] . There was a slight difference in the balance of opinion between individual respondents (of whom around 10 in 20 agreed, around 2 in 20 disagreed, and around 8 in 20 did not answer) and organisational respondents (of whom around 13 in 20 agreed, around 3 in 20 disagreed and around 5 in 20 did not answer) [11] . Further details of responses to Question 5 by respondent type are given in Annex 2.

Question 6: If no to Question 5, what alternative priorities would you prefer? Why?

A total of 118 respondents made a comment at Question 6. Of these, only 55 respondents had answered No at Question 5, while 56 respondents had said Yes and a further 7 respondents had not answered the Yes/No question.

Among those who had answered No to Question 5 and went on to make a comment about alternative priorities, respondents most frequently:

  • Disagreed with one or more of the three proposed priorities for future cross-border co-operation identified by the Scottish Government at Question 5. These comments tended to focus on aspects of common codes.
  • Highlighted other subjects on the longer list that are currently topics for cross-border co-operation that should be added to the future priorities.
  • Proposed new subjects for cross-border co-operation.
  • Referred specifically to the future of the Forest Research agency.

Where comments focused on the alternative priorities, those made by respondents who had agreed at Question 5 tended to be very similar to those made by respondents who had disagreed. The remaining analysis of comments made at Question 6 is structured thematically, rather than according to the answer given at Question 5.

Forestry science and research

Respondents most-frequently noted agreement that forestry science and research should be a priority. Comments often focused on delivery aspects, and on the future of the Forest Research agency (Ind, O). However, it was also suggested that, while close collaboration should continue, forest science and research should be devolved to Scotland (Ac). Reasons given in support were that Scotland's research requirements are different and forestry is much more important to the Scottish economy.

Tree health

It was almost universally agreed by those who commented that tree health is an ongoing priority. Specific suggestions made included that:

  • For practical purposes, issuing and managing plant health notices would be best done by the body responsible for forestry within each country (Ind).
  • The legal basis for plant health operations operating on a UK-wide basis and different legal jurisdictions, needs to be clarified. This is particularly important since decisions sometimes need to be taken and implemented quickly (O).

Common codes

Many of those commenting also agreed that common codes should be a priority for cross-border co-operation, with a small number of respondents making specific comments on the benefit of such codes. These included that:

  • Since the Scottish forestry sector sells timber into a UK marketplace, it is essential that there is a credible basis to independent forest certification which the UK Forestry Standard ( UKFS) supports (Pr).
  • Forest certification is an international process and customers will not accept regional differences in codes or certification standards (Pr).
  • The UK Woodland Assurance Standard and the UKFS should be 'fused' and the Scottish Government would be well placed to take the lead on this (Ind).

A smaller number of respondents disagreed or raised queries; these respondents often made specific reference to the UKFS, sometimes suggesting that a Scottish Standard is, or may eventually be, more appropriate (Ac, Ind, O, Pu, Th).

Other priorities suggested

While a small number of respondents indicated their view that the complete list of 8 cross-border functions presented in the consultation document should be treated as priorities (Ind, O), others outlined certain functions which they felt should be prioritised.

Inventory/forecasting was the most frequently-made suggestion for cross-border co-operation (Ind, O, Pr, Pu, Th). Reasons included that this data is important for informing investment decisions and giving confidence to investors (Ind, O, Pr).

Several respondents also noted that, following a 2015 review, various functions, including Inventory Forecasting and Operational Support had been transferred to the present Forest Research agency (Ind, O). The future of Forest Research was raised frequently at Question 6 by respondents who considered its preservation to be a priority for cross-border co-operation. This is considered further at Question 7.

International policy was widely suggested as an additional priority for cross-border co-operation (Ind, O, Pr, Pu, Th). However, it was noted that where the UK is a signatory to international conventions and has only a single vote, a mechanism to secure agreement will need to be put in place, unless the Scottish Government is content to defer to the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) on such matters (Th).

A small number of respondents pointed to problems they saw with the existing arrangements (Ind, O). These included that the UK is often under-represented in international forest policy meetings or is 'punching below its weight'. It was argued that there is a need for Scotland to have a stronger voice in relation to UK activity on international forest policy.

New subjects for cross-border co-operation

A small number of respondents suggested additional topics they felt should be added to the current list of priorities for cross-border co-operation set out in the consultation paper. These included:

  • Health and Safety, with forest health and safety sometimes mentioned in combination with other technical standards. It was suggested that it would be easy to achieve continued engagement with the Forestry Industry Safety Accord ( FISA) (Pr) and that the new Division and Agency should continue to be members of FISA (Pu).
  • Education and/or training, although further comments were very limited (Ind, Pr, Th).

Other suggestions made at Question 6, but raised by only one or a very small number of respondents included: transport and marketing; biodiversity; conservation; community management of forestry; peatland restoration; control of invasive/non-native species; wildlife protection/wildlife crime co-operation; and sustainable development.

Delivery of cross-border arrangements

Question 7: Do you have views on the means by which cross-border arrangements might be delivered effectively to reflect Scottish needs? E.g. Memorandum of Understanding between countries? Scotland taking the lead on certain arrangements?

A total of 227 respondents made a comment at Question 7. The most frequently-made points, reflecting the suggestions in the consultation paper, concerned whether Scotland should lead on certain arrangements and whether use of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) could be appropriate. Other frequently-made points focused on:

  • A single cross-border body;
  • Retention of the existing Forest Research agency;
  • Various options for establishment of committees, forums or other bodies targeted on specific issues;
  • The importance of funding; and
  • The importance of considering other international relationships.

In addition, a number of respondents indicated they believed the best way to ensure the desired outcomes would be to leave all responsibilities in the hands of the Forestry Commission.

Scotland taking the lead on certain arrangements

Almost all those who commented on the suggestion that Scotland should take a lead on certain arrangements agreed that this was appropriate, with a range of suitable subject areas proposed. Specific comments included:

  • The Scottish Government should seek to take a UK lead or propose rotational country leads on international policy, UKFS, inventory, economics and statistics (Ind, O, Pr).
  • The Scottish Government should consider forming a Joint Forestry Committee for Great Britain, based in Scotland, which provides services to the other UK nations (Ind).
  • Research should be carried out on a UK basis and, given that Scotland has the largest woodland cover, it would make sense for Scotland to take the lead role (Ind).

Memorandum of Understanding

Of the many respondents who referred to a MoU, most simply agreed it would be a good idea, sensible, and should be used. Only a small number of respondents expressed concerns, primarily that a MoU might be ignored and that a treaty or statute would be more appropriate (Ind).

Relatively few respondents who explicitly approved the use of MoUs gave further detail. However, there was a reference to an existing MoU between a Scottish Research Institute and Forest Research which formalises collaboration on certain key topics (Ac). Some respondents also suggested that cross-border functions would best be delivered through a Forest Research agency that operates on a cross-border basis, using MoUs with the different countries to set out arrangements (O). Other respondents also associated the use of MoUs with a cross-border body, and particularly with a cross-border research agency (Ac, Ind, O, Pr, Th).

It was suggested that the work achieved by the research branch of the Northern Ireland Forest Service provides a positive model for how a MoU can be used to set an agreed framework between borders (Pr).

A single body to deliver cross-border functions

As already noted above, a number of respondents were in favour of a single body to deliver cross-border functions. Many appeared to have been thinking primarily of the research function when making their comments. This body was variously described as a:

  • Single body to deliver cross-border functions (Ind, O).
  • Separate, jointly-owned, cross-border partnership (Ind).
  • Single organisation responsible for forest research, which could be the current Forest Research (Ac, Ind, O, Th).

In terms of the advantages which would come from following the single-body approach, suggestions included that any other approach would be inefficient, would result in duplication of effort and require new co-ordination arrangements to be set up (O).

Suggested models for consideration included:

  • Variants on the Joint Nature Conservation Committee structure, although it was suggested that it is unclear how effective this structure has been in achieving the desired co-operation and collaboration (Ind, O, Th).
  • Scion in New Zealand [12] (O).
  • The work of the Northern Ireland Forest Service (Pr).

Future of Forest Research

A number of respondents commented specifically on the Forest Research agency at Question 7. As noted previously, this subject was also raised at Question 6, and several respondents cross-referenced their answers at Questions 6 and 7. To avoid duplication, comments at both questions are considered together here.

A number of respondents suggested that Forest Research should be retained, either in its existing form or as the core of any new body (Ac, Ind, O, Pu, Th). Reasons given included that:

  • Forest Research has a proven track record of delivering excellent research, has an international reputation for quality and a tradition of applied research to meet the needs of practitioners (Ind, O).
  • Effective research in this field requires a strong interdisciplinary team and this would not be viable in a smaller organisation (O).
  • Forest Research has two bases which provide a balanced mix of upland and lowland research, thus benefiting all parts of the UK (Ind).

Although there was broad support for keeping Forest Research largely in its existing form, a small number of respondents suggested its status should be changed, for example to a company limited by guarantee with the private/non-governmental sector having a share alongside the four countries of the UK (Ind, O, Pr).


Irrespective of the type of organisation(s) they proposed, a number of respondents noted issues around funding (Ind, O, Pr, Pu). Comments included:

  • That the Scottish Government will need to reach an effective and sustainable arrangement that ensures each country contributes proportional funding (Pr).
  • Both Governments and private sector contributors will need assurance that their resources are being invested in projects which meet their needs (Ind, Pr).
  • That (as already discussed above) changing the status of Forest Research to give the private and third sector more influence could increase funding from these sources (Ind, O, Pr).

International considerations

In their comments at Question 7, respondents often made similar points to those already reported at Question 6 concerning the importance of Scotland being properly represented at international level. Additional comments included:

  • Cross-border should mean more than UK borders; it should encompass arrangements across Europe, including non- EU countries such as Norway (Ind).
  • The potential effects of Brexit are important for Scottish forestry since UK trade negotiations will affect forest product markets (O, Pr).


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