Felling and restocking regulations: strategic environmental assessment

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

4 Environmental Baseline

4.1 Overview

4.1.1 It is a requirement of the 2005 Act that Responsible Authorities provide details of the character of the environment which may be affected, including any existing pressures and the likely evolution of the environment in the absence of the new plan or programme. The proposals are assessed against this baseline to provide an indication of the type and significance of any environmental impacts that could arise.

4.1.2 At scoping stage, it was considered that potentially significant impacts would likely focus on the following topics: biodiversity, flora and fauna; soil; water; cultural heritage and landscape. Climatic factors and material assets have also been included as topics following recommendations made by SEPA during the scoping consultation ( Appendix E).

4.1.3 The Consultation Authorities also recommended that the information sources defined during scoping were supplemented by further data which has been included within this Environmental Report.

4.1.4 Relevant aspects of the current environmental baseline are discussed in this section. Further detail for each environmental topic area is presented in the Environmental Baseline set out in Appendix D.

4.2 Relevant aspects of the current environmental baseline

4.2.1 Scotland is a relatively small country of 77911 km 2 with a population of approximately 5.43 million people [12] . Although the vast majority (98%) of Scotland is classified as rural land, there is a marked contrast in the number of people living in rural areas (18%) versus non-rural areas (82%) [13] . Further, the population is mainly concentrated in seven city-regions: Glasgow City (1 827 240), Edinburgh City (1 375 880), Perth and Kinross (787 500), Dundee City (787 500), Aberdeen City (490 600), and Inverness (Highland) (235 180) [14] . Since 1997, Scotland's population has grown by about 6% [15] and future projections estimate Scotland's population will grow by an additional 6.1% by 2041, for a total of roughly 5.69 million [16] .

4.2.2 Scotland is internationally renowned for its varied and dramatic landscapes including impressive mountain ranges, broad plateaus, expansive lowlands, and striking coastal features [17] . Many of these are the result of ancient glacial and periglacial activity as well as changes in sea level [18] . The three primary landscape classifications are the Central Lowlands, the Highlands and Islands to the north and west, and the Southern Uplands [19] . Situated among these natural features are the many iconic manmade landmarks and townscapes that help give Scotland its reputation as a tourist destination [20] .

4.2.3 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 [21] . The advent of early agriculture prompted deforestation to occur on an extensive scale in the centuries that followed [22] . Continued human influence as well as a shift towards a cooler, wetter climate transformed much of this formerly forested land into peat [23] . 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 [24] , 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 [25] . Even so, Scotland has significantly less forest cover than most other European countries [26] .

4.2.4 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 [27] . However, examples of semi-natural woodlands have endured to the present day and these are considered a conservation priority due to the extremely high levels of biodiversity that they support [28] .

4.2.5 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 [29] . Many of these are protected through designations such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest ( SSSI) and Special Areas of Conservation ( SACs) such as ashwoods, Caledonian pinewoods, alluvial forests, and bog woodland [30] .

4.2.6 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 [31] . Much like native woodlands, ancient woodlands are often fragmented [32] and so are vulnerable to further degradation [33] .

4.2.7 Scotland's forests have adapted to exist across a wide range of environmental conditions. For example, the oceanic climate of the west coast gives rise to "rainforests" of Atlantic hazel and upland oakwood while the drier east coast favours different species. Native pine woodlands colonise thin, infertile, mineral soils, whereas ecologically rich collections of ashwoods become established on richer soils. Wet woods are predominantly found in areas of poor drainage, such as depressions, whereas montane scrub thrive above the treeline along Scotland's hills and mountains [34] .

4.2.8 Minor woodland varieties include aspen woodland, urban and amenity woodland, and individual and small groups of trees [35] . 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.

4.2.9 Further baseline information relating to Scotland's forests is presented in Appendix D. In addition, baseline information for each SEA topic is presented, including descriptive statistics, current condition(s), and past and projected trends, if known. This is intended to give an account of the present state of Scotland's environment. The majority of the data has been derived from Scottish Government sources, Forestry Commission publications, Scotland's Environment web, and the websites of the statutory Consultation Authorities ( SEPA, SNH, and Historic Environment Scotland), with additional sources consulted as necessary.

4.3 Environmental issues/opportunities relevant to forestry

4.3.1 Table 2 highlights the environmental issues and opportunities that relate to the Regulations preparation and scoped in topics.

Table 2: Environmental issues/opportunities associated with forestry


Environmental Issue/Opportunity

Biodiversity, fauna and flora

Incidence and prevalence of tree diseases ( e.g. ash dieback [36] ); pests; deer grazing; decline of native species ( e.g. decline in Caledonian pinewoods [37] ); invasive non-native species ( e.g. rhododendron [38] ); fragmentation; neglect or lack of management [39] ; mismanagement ( e.g. "scrub" clearance [40] )


Loss of organic matter; erosion and landslides; compaction; soil sealing; contamination; leaching; alterations in soil biodiversity; emerging issues ( e.g. genetically modified organisms) [41]


Alterations to water levels and flows [42] ; high water consumption by trees [43] ; reductions in water quality due to increased sedimentation and turbidity arising from forestry operations; diffuse pollution ( e.g. phosphorous) originating from fertiliser application; changes in shore and bank morphology due to erosion; acidification of water bodies in areas with mature conifer forests and sensitive geology [44] ; flooding [45]

Climatic factors

Northward spread of species; spread of pests and pathogens and increases in their occurrence ( e.g. red band needle blight); alterations in the timing of seasonal events ( i.e. phenology) such as trees coming into leaf; release of greenhouse gases from the drying out/oxidisation of peatlands and carbon-rich soils [46] ; improvement or decline in the fitness of certain species in response to changing environmental conditions ( e.g. decline in Sitka spruce in areas of increased drought); flooding and extreme weather events; fires; wind throw [47]

Historic and cultural heritage

Uncertainty regarding location and extent of buried archaeological remains in forests and woodlands; destruction to archaeological remains due to cultivation, desiccation, root damage, visitor erosion, burrowing animals, or chemical changes to the surrounding environment; changes in setting of historic and cultural features due to alterations in forest and woodland cover and composition; changes in historic land use due to afforestation/deforestation [48] ; loss of native and ancient woodlands [49]

Material assets

Unsustainable management of forest resources [50] ; competing land uses ( e.g. agriculture, landfills, energy infrastructure, etc.) [51]


Altered landscape character and appearance due to woodland expansion, particularly in the uplands [52] ; visual removal of geological features ( e.g. "landscape sculptures" [53] ) due to afforestation

4.4 Likely evolution of the environment without the Regulations

4.4.1 In developing the proposals, opinions were sought from a wide range of interest groups 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.


Email: FutureForestry@gov.scot

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