Felling and restocking regulations: strategic environmental assessment

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

6 Assessment findings and recommendations

6.1 Overview

6.1.1 This section sets out the significant environmental effects expected as a result of the changes to exemptions which it is proposed will be carried over from the existing legislation. The remaining aspects of the proposal are considered when assessing the potential for cumulative impacts to arise from the implementation of the entire suite of proposed Regulations.

6.2 Small trees / Diameter threshold

6.2.1 Using only the minimum diameter threshold for all circumstances provides clarity for felling of trees and associated enforcement. The effect of this change streamlines the exemptions and clarifies the position for owners and operators, still allowing for some management but limiting the potential reduction of woodland. This is considered to have a minor yet long-term positive direct effect on biodiversity in terms of maintaining and limiting disturbance to designated and non-designated species and habitats as well providing some protection to the cultural heritage value of native woodlands.

6.2.2 Ultimately the amended exemption is likely to help to retain the value of forests via a slightly more stringent control of felling.

6.2.3 Coppicing has limited application in Scotland and the current 10 cm threshold for thinning is also limited in application. Removing this may preserve some trees and afford additional protection to associated native species and habitats ( biodiversity, cultural heritage and material assets) where the exemptions had previously been misunderstood or misused, but the benefits are considered to be minor in magnitude.

6.2.4 Young forests grow rapidly and soak up carbon more quickly than mature forests [63] . The more stringent exemption may discourage some felling of young trees and therefore ultimately have a cumulative minor positive effect across all time frames in terms of reducing GHG emissions, thereby contributing to climate resilience ( climatic factors).

6.2.5 Controlling felling via a more stringent diameter threshold will cumulatively have a minor positive effect in providing protection to soil and water by limiting uncontrolled felling. These are also considered to be minor positive effects.

6.3 Volume Threshold

6.3.1 The intention of the Regulations is to prevent woodland removal whilst allowing small scale domestic felling. Overall, limiting felling without a permission can have a minor positive effect across all topics by limiting disturbance to the environment via the requirement of a permission. However, it is recommended that clear guidelines regarding the exemption of specific native woodlands are provided; to allow identification and to prevent confusion regarding the areas to which this exemption applies.

6.3.2 This proposed exemption would mean that native woodlands, particularly ancient and semi natural woodlands would require permission to fell even small volumes of timber where trees are over 8 cm in diameter and therefore ensure that felling is for woodland management purposes and that the cumulative effect of the felling can be managed. A resultant long term minor positive effect of a permanent nature is predicted on biodiversity (habitat creation and connectivity) and cultural heritage value of native woods.

6.3.3 In combination, where distinct areas of a woodland have different owners the risk remains that a woodland could be split to take advantage of the exemption and to enable deforestation. However, the likelihood of this occurring is considered to be quite low and adding any further limits to the exemption could affect the legitimate use of the exemption.

6.3.4 Removing the 2 m 3 per quarter for sale exemption is unlikely to have any discernible effect across the topics.

6.4 Dead Trees and Windblow

6.4.1 The introduction of an exemption for the felling of dead trees and no requirement for consultation where windblow impacts on infrastructure provides protection to material assets as well as protecting from an health and safety standpoint.

6.4.2 The licensing of the felling of wind blow over 5m 3 will allow the regulator, where appropriate, to require restocking, which would have a positive effect on availability of timber ( material assets) as a resource as well as medium term positive effects as the trees grow and absorb more carbon ( climatic factors). Assuming restocking is well managed in terms of location it will help to preserve the setting of cultural heritage and landscape into the future. Similarly the restocking sites and species need to be carefully managed. The UK Forestry Standard ( UKFS) is the reference standard for sustainable forest management in the UK and provides a basis for regulation and monitoring. Also, the regulator controls opportunities to place conditions on a licence where these types of concerns would be considered.

6.4.3 Whilst the licence requirement for windblown trees will allow the regulator to control any necessary restocking of any site that has been compromised, the effects will also partly depend on whether the dead trees are removed or left in situ after felling has taken place, however, this is not within the remit of the Regulations.

6.5 Other Exemptions

6.5.1 Other exemptions include improving forestry guidance and clarifying what is meant by the term public open space. 'Public open space' is not currently defined and this introduces a risk that people will interpret this to their advantage. This exemption will specify practical requirements and hence potentially preserve the environment to a minor degree across several topics, for example, a minor positive cumulatively across Scotland in terms of biodiversity and landscape where woodland that was previously perceived as 'public open space' can no longer be defined as such and therefore is subject to felling permissions. Therefore more protection is afforded for habitats and species and the quality of the landscape. There may be circumstances where the delivery of this outcome will potentially reduce damage from felling to cultural heritage features however, it is considered that this is a minor positive effect and would be dealt with at project level and via licence conditions.

6.5.2 It is uncertain the extent of felling which has been undertaken previously due to misinterpretation or use of perceived loopholes but clarification can only serve to better enforce the Regulations. For example, framing the exemption for removal of dangerous trees so it captures only felling that is necessary will help to prevent removal of entire trees where, for example, removing one dangerous branch would have removed the danger thus resulting in a minor positive effect across all topics for example, by affording protection to species and habitats that benefit from using the trees ( biodiversity).

6.6 Cumulative Effects

6.6.1 Cumulatively the exemptions are predicted to have a major positive effect on both ancient and semi-natural woodlands in terms of controlling and limiting felling without a licence. This cascades to protection primarily across the topics of biodiversity, cultural heritage (in terms of the trees themselves) and to some extent, material assets.

6.6.2 It is also considered that these changes to the way the Regulations are implemented, supported by other PPS such as the UKFS will have a positive long term effect on the preservation of native woodlands and the value of forestry as a resource.

6.7 Summary of Conclusions

6.7.1 The proposals set out for the Regulations on Felling and Restocking are primarily to provide more protection for the forestry resource by seeking to improve clarity and enforcement around exemptions. After consideration of each of the topics, it is predicted that the effects of the new Regulations will largely be minor positive in nature extending to major positive when considering the cumulative effect over the long term.

6.7.2 The Consultation Authorities provided comment on the scoping report and these comments have been considered within the assessment (also see Appendix E). However, many of the comments are more appropriately dealt with via separate legislation. For example, controlling potential negative issues around the effect of restocking on the soil e.g. use of heavy machinery, would be more appropriately addressed via conditions provided by the regulator. Similarly, decisions about restocking are made on the basis of the evidence that is provided during the licence application process, including via site visits. This evidence is considered alongside the current body of knowledge about healthy forest systems, for example, current policy is to stage replanting so that there is a variety in the age of the trees in a specific area. These proposals do nothing to affect this approach.


Email: FutureForestry@gov.scot

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