Felling and restocking regulations: strategic environmental assessment

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

3 Consideration of reasonable alternatives

3.1.1 The 2005 Act states that 'The report shall identify, describe and evaluate the likely significant effects on the environment of implementing - (a) the plan or programme; and (b) reasonable alternatives to the plan or programme. SEA Guidance states that alternatives must be realistic, and that when considering whether or not an alternative is reasonable, potential restriction to its implementation, for example, parameters set by relevant legalisation and any relevant policy commitments, will be fully considered.

3.1.2 Consideration of alternatives was undertaken during the preparation of the proposals and these were discounted as unreasonable with justification provided below. The alternatives were broken down by exemption and for some the only alternative was not carrying forward the exemption, essentially a 'do nothing' option. For some of the other exemptions several options were looked at and discounted.

3.1.3 A principal 'do nothing' option would be to have no exemptions and require all felling (no matter how insignificant or urgent) to require a permit ( i.e. no Regulations are put in place and the current exemptions fall by virtue of the 2018 Act coming into force). However, this is not feasible as it would negate the objectives of the new Regulations which include reducing the administrative burden, maximising timber availability to market and making enforcement easier.

3.1.4 To illustrate the process behind discounting the alternatives, it is beneficial to consider two of the primary exemptions proposed by the new Regulations. This rationale is also also set out in the consultation paper and views are being requested on the proposals via consultation.

3.1.5 In terms of the diameter exemption, the first alternative was not to carry forward any exemption for small trees. However, this was considered to be an unreasonable and an unjustified burden on woodland managers. However, a second alternative, maintaining current exemptions (listed below) is considered to be confusing and difficult to enforce:

a. with a diameter not exceeding 8 centimetres;
b. in the case of coppice or underwood, with a diameter not exceeding 15 centimetres, or
c. a diameter not exceeding 10 centimetres and the felling is carried out in order to improve the growth of other trees.

A third alternative would be to create an exemption with a larger diameter (for example 15 cm rather than 8 cm). However, this is considered unreasonable based on the amount of woodland that would fall into the 15 cm or less category. A fourth alternative was to create an exemption that defines diameter at ground level. This was considered to be impractical since trees are not always straight all the way to the ground, and there may be a bulb, collar or bulge at the bottom of the tree. Basing the measurement here could constrain the amount of trees that could be felled without a permission for example, the diameter at ground level may be 12 cm but the majority of the rest of the trunk be 8 cm. Using the diameter at ground level as a measure would mean that that particular tree could not be felled.

3.1.6 For the volume threshold, the alternatives that were considered included not carrying forward any volume exemption. This was considered unreasonable as an unjustified burden on woodland managers/owners. The second alternative that was considered was to maintain the current exemptions for felling and sale. Restricting the proportion of timber that can be sold, or the proportion of timber that is produced from felling using the volume exemption, delivers no tangible benefit. There is no reason to limit what can be sold, as the policy interest lies in what is felled in the first place as a means of maintaining woodland cover.

3.1.7 A third alternative to maintain only the current exemption for felling but dropping the sale volume would be a missed opportunity to protect small native woodlands. However, just simply creating a smaller volume exemption, for example 2 m 2 per quarter only or 10 m 2 per year is considered to be unreasonable constraint on woodland managers due to the disproportionate regulatory burden. Finally creating the volume exemption for non-native woodlands only is considered to be unreasonable based on the constraints it would put on all native woodland owners, regardless of the size of woodland.

3.1.8 It is considered that these justifications cascade to all of the alternatives that were considered for each exemption. For the reasons illustrated it is considered that the preferred options for the exemptions are the only options that are reasonable for assessment. Nevertheless, as mentioned above the consultation paper provides opportunity to comment on the proposed exemptions.

3.2 Potential limitations of the proposed approach

3.2.1 There are some uncertainties with respect to the assessment of the Regulations on felling and restocking. For example, some of the Consultation Authorities' comments on the scoping report (see Appendix E) pertain to the subject of restocking locations, such as, concerns with planting on areas of peat land, as well as activities associated with forestry operations, such as haulage routes, buildings and waste production. These are subjects that; will either not be affected by the implementation of the Regulations and on which the Regulations will have no or minimal effect, for example, the use of low Carbon technology. Or, in the case of planting locations this is a subject not dictated by the Regulations but rather one which is governed by the principles of sustainable forest management ( SFM). In the new regime SFM forms the basis for all decisions taken by the regulator: Scottish Ministers will have a duty to promote SFM and in taking decisions and determining applications as a regulator will have to have regard to that duty. This is a new requirement placed on Scottish Ministers, in section 27 of the new Act, to have regard to their duty to promote sustainable forest management when making decisions); there is no equivalent link in the current regime. It is therefore considered that these issues are outside the scope of the assessment and further notes are provided in Appendix E.

3.2.2 Whilst the comments posed by the Consultation Authorities are not applicable to the Regulations on Felling and Restocking, it is considered that these will be considered within future reviews of other strategies, policies and the guidance that support the regulatory regime such as the Scottish Forestry Strategy [10] and the Policy on control of woodland removal [11] .


Email: FutureForestry@gov.scot

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