Felling and restocking regulations: strategic environmental assessment

Strategic environmental assessment (SEA) to accompany the consultation on the regulation of felling and restocking in 2018.

Non-Technical Summary


Following the passage of the Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Act, the Scottish Government is proposing to bring forward secondary legislation to update the current provisions on felling and restocking, ensuring that statutory processes are proportionate to the activities they seek to regulate and to maintain the benefits of sustainable management of Scotland's forests.

What is Strategic Environmental Assessment ( SEA)?

The development of proposals for the new Regulations on Felling and Restocking is considered to fall under Section 5(3) of the Environmental Assessment (Scotland) Act 2005 ('the 2005 Act'). The 2005 Act requires that public plans, programmes, and strategies ( PPS) be assessed for their potential effects on the environment. Strategic Environmental Assessment ( SEA) provides a means of identifying potentially significant environmental impacts at an early stage in the development of the PPS. SEA also considers how identified impacts can be avoided or minimised through appropriate mitigation measures and provides for engagement with stakeholders through public consultation on both the PPS as well as the findings of the SEA.

Approach taken to the SEA

The assessment methodology was initially developed to include an objective and question level approach. However, as the assessment progressed and in consideration of the Consultation Authorities' input at scoping stage it became clear that the changes proposed warranted a more broad-based assessment.

A range of alternatives were considered during the development of the proposals but for the reasons outlined within this Environmental Report - largely involving avoidance of disproportionate regulatory burden - these were deemed not to be reasonable inclusions for assessment. However, the opportunity to comment on the proposed exemptions is provided within the Consultation Paper.

Relevant related policies and environmental objectives

The SEA process took into account wider existing environmental objectives. These include established policies and strategies relating to protection and enhancement of the natural and built environment. Key objectives are summarised in the body of the report in relation to the environmental baseline below.

More specifically, the Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Act 2018 was passed by the Scottish Parliament on 20th March 2018 and received Royal Assent on 1st May 2018. The Act was the first of three principal legislative activities required to complete the devolution of forestry. It provides the legislative framework to enable delivery of a package of other policy initiatives to increase forestry's contribution to the Scottish Ministers' economic, environmental, and social ambitions.

Following the passage of the Act, provisions are being made to wind up the Forestry Commissioners as a cross-border public authority and to help establish new collaborative cross-border arrangements with the UK and Welsh Governments. There will also be arrangements for transferring some of the Forestry Commissioners' property and liabilities to the Scottish Ministers.

The activities presently delivered by the Forestry Commissioners in Scotland through Forestry Commission Scotland ( FCS) and Forest Enterprise Scotland ( FES) will be transferred to the Scottish Government. Regulatory, policy, support and grant-giving functions will transfer to Scottish Forestry, a Scottish Government Agency. Management of the Scottish Ministers' National Forest Estate will transfer to Forestry and Land Scotland, an agency of the Scottish Government.

As part of this it is necessary to set out procedures for the permitting of felling, ensuring restocking and for the associated procedures for appeals and compensation. Separately, the exemptions to have permission to fell have been reviewed. This SEA is concerned with these proposed changes.

What is our environment like today and how is it changing?

As recently as a few thousand years ago, forests in Scotland were widespread, with woodland cover stretching all the way to Shetland and the Western Isles. The advent of early agriculture prompted deforestation to occur on an extensive scale in the centuries that followed. Continued human influence and a shift towards a cooler, wetter climate transformed much of this formerly forested land into peat.

The 17th and 18th centuries brought new pressures as demand for woodland products such as charcoal and timber began to rise in response to industrialisation. Forest cover fell to a historic low of about 5% in 1900, but, following a campaign of steady reforestation initiated after the First World War, has since rebounded to roughly 18% of Scotland's total land area. Even so, Scotland has significantly less forest cover than most other European countries.

Hundreds of years of human intervention and the impacts of climate change have altered Scotland's forests such that no woodlands in Scotland can be regarded as truly natural. However, examples of semi-natural woodlands have endured to the present day and these are considered a conservation priority due to the biodiversity that they support.

Native woodlands are those in which over 50% of the canopy is comprised of species that are native to the region and are commonly classified according to four main types: native pinewoods, upland birchwoods, upland oakwoods, and lowland mixed deciduous woodland. Many of these are protected through designations such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest ( SSSI) and Special Areas of Conservation ( SACs).

Scotland's oldest woodlands have existed in some capacity for at least 250 years. These are referred to as ancient woodlands and are recognised for their particularly high levels of biodiversity. Many also possess considerable heritage value. Much like native woodlands, ancient woodlands are often fragmented and so are vulnerable to further degradation.

Minor woodland varieties include aspen woodland, urban and amenity woodland, and individual and small groups of trees. Despite their relatively limited spatial extent, these types perform many vital functions such as providing green space in urban environments and serving as a "living record" of historic land uses.

The evolution of the environment without the Regulations

In developing the proposals, opinions were sought regarding what could be improved and the strong message was that broadly the current system works well. This is what has led to proposals that, for the most part, maintain the status quo. However opportunities have been identified to make adjustments that should lead to benefits. It is considered that without the implementation of the new Regulations on Felling and Restocking specific issues with respect to felling and restocking will continue, including:

  • Use of the 5m 3 per quarter exemption to gradually remove woodland, particularly broadleaves and native woodland.
  • Uncertainty over the meaning of some terms e.g. public open space, potentially leading to inappropriate felling (without restocking).

It is considered that if the proposed changes are not implemented, these effects could continue with negative effects on habitats and species particularly in native woodland and gradual loss of native woodlands and their heritage value. In addition, if the current exemptions were removed ( i.e. no Regulations are put in place and the current exemptions fall by virtue of the 2018 Act coming into force) this would lead to all activity being subject to permissions which is not proportionate.

What are the environmental effects of the draft proposals?

The changes to exemptions and guidance are predicted to have a mostly minor positive effect in the short term with a cumulatively major positive effect in the long term. It is expected that mitigation of environmental effects associated with tree felling and restocking will continue to be addressed primarily at a forest plan and site level.

There are a number of existing measures that serve to ensure that forestry-related operations in Scotland abide by the principles of sustainability and environmental protection. For example, the UK Forestry Standard describes the conditions that must be met when felling trees.

A wide range of existing programmes are in place to report on environmental status and assess performance against established environmental indicators. Given the general minor effect the Regulations are predicted to have in isolation and the range of indicators currently in use, it is recommended that existing indicators are utilised to monitor the Regulations' cumulative effects with that of other PPS.

It is recommended that timing of felling and restocking is also monitored – perhaps making it a requirement to report once the activity has happened as part of the permission conditions.


Email: FutureForestry@gov.scot

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