Background and Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA)
This non-technical summary of the Environmental Report sets out the findings of the Strategic Environmental Assessment of the draft Forestry Strategy 2019-29.
The development of proposals for the Forestry Strategy 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) are assessed for their potential effects on the environment.
Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) enables environmental considerations to be built into the Forestry Strategy, so that potentially significant environmental impacts are identified at an early stage. It also gives members of the public and other interested organisations an opportunity to comment on the draft Strategy and its environmental effects. The SEA also considers how identified adverse impacts can be avoided or minimised ('mitigation'). A monitoring plan is also developed to identify any unexpected adverse environmental effects, should these arise. The conclusions from each stage of the assessment are summarised in the sections below.
Comments from the Consultation Authorities (SNH, SEPA and Historic Environment Scotland) have been taken into account, in terms of how the assessment has been undertaken, what it covers, and the level of detail required in this Environmental Report.
The draft Strategy has been prepared in line with the Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Act 2018. The Act requires Scottish Ministers to prepare a new Forestry Strategy.
The 50-year vision which underpins the Forestry Strategy is: Scotland will have more forests and woodlands, which will be sustainably managed as a much greater part of the nation's natural capital, providing a resilient, high quality and growing resource that supports a strong economy, a thriving environment, and healthy and empowered communities. To support the vision, the draft Forestry Strategy identifies three primary objectives to deliver over the next 10 years:
- Increase the contribution of forests and woodlands to Scotland's sustainable and inclusive economic growth;
- Protect and enhance Scotland's valuable natural assets, ensuring that our forests and woodlands are resilient and contribute to a healthy and high quality environment;
- Use Scotland's forest and woodland resources to empower more people to improve their health, well-being and life chances.
The Strategy also identifies the main priorities likely to have the greatest impact on achieving the draft objectives over the next 10 years. This assessment has focused on these 10 priorities. The Strategy sets out the range of policies the Government has to support delivery. Detailed actions for implementing the Strategy are not specified, as further information will be provided in the associated Monitoring and Reporting Framework that will be published later in 2019. Where applicable, the more detailed plans and programmes associated with the implementation of the Strategy will themselves be environmentally assessed under the 2005 Act. Actions carried out to support the delivery of the Strategy's vision and objectives must adhere to the principles of sustainable forest management where relevant, and this has been taken into account in assessing the environmental effects of the draft Strategy.
Relevant related policies and environmental objectives
The SEA process has taken into account existing wider environmental objectives. These include established policies and strategies relating to the protection and enhancement of the natural and built environment.
A Forestry Strategy was first published in 2000, and established a framework of guiding principles for developing forestry in Scotland. A second edition further developed this framework and was published in 2006.
In 2011, the Scottish Government concluded that the existing Strategy remained 'fit for purpose' and a revision was not required.
In 2016, 'Getting the best from our land: A Land Use Strategy for Scotland 2016-2021' (LUS2) was published, setting out a framework for a more unified and strategic approach to land use within Scotland. Its fundamental principles of "long-term, well integrated, sustainable land use delivering multiple benefits for all society" have been consolidated across management strategies for a range of sectors, including forestry. The Land Use Strategy noted the key role of forestry as a multi-purpose land use and identified a review of the existing Forestry Strategy as a priority for delivering its Vision, Objectives and Principles, and ensuring it aligned with relevant Scottish Government policies and priorities.
Another key environmental policy is the Scottish Government's Climate Change Plan 2018 (CCP). The plan establishes the government's annual woodland creation target (currently 10,000 hectares per year, rising to 15,000 hectares by 2025) and through this its longer-term ambition to increase Scotland's forest and woodland cover to 21% of the total land area by 2032.
The commitment to produce a new Forestry Strategy was carried through to the Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Act 2018, which was passed by the Scottish Parliament on 20th March 2018 and received Royal Assent on 1st May 2018. The Act is a fundamental step in the process to complete the devolution of forestry, providing 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. The Act makes provision for what must be included in the new Forestry Strategy and how it must be prepared (including consultation requirements), reviewed and reported on.
The LUS2 and CCP were both themselves subject to SEA before they were finalised.
Environmental characteristics related to forestry
Hundreds of years of human intervention and the impacts of climate change have reduced in extent and altered Scotland's forests, so 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 a conservation priority due to the biodiversity that they support.
By the early 20th century, forest cover in Scotland, as well as the rest of the UK, was reduced to 5%. This was recognised as a strategic problem and the UK Forestry Act of 1919 was introduced to address this issue. Given the strategic need to grow more timber, the forests and woodlands planted in Scotland during the subsequent 100 years were primarily, but not exclusively designed to optimise timber production, using species from around the world suited to Scotland's growing climate. Today, Scotland's woodland and forests cover 19% of the country's total land area.
Native woodlands, which account for 22% of Scotland's, forests and 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. Other woodland varieties include aspen woodland, urban and amenity woodland, and individual and small groups of trees. Despite their relatively limited spatial extent, these types of woodland perform many vital functions such as providing green space in urban environments and serving as a "living record" of historic land uses.
Scotland's woodlands face pressures to their health and productivity. Land use change due to urban expansion and other activities can result in habitat fragmentation and a loss of biodiversity. Pests and diseases can cause physical damage or tree death while invasive non-native species can alter species composition and disrupt woodland ecosystems, including native woodlands. Unmanaged woodland recreation could also introduce problems such as trampling, the disturbance of wildlife, and the introduction of pathogens.
Climate change has the potential to affect forests and woodlands in a number of ways. For example, it may promote the propagation of pests, diseases, and non-native species; the climate-induced spread of Phytophthora ramorum, which threatens larch, and Dothistroma needle blight, which targets coniferous trees including native pinewood, have been identified as particular concerns. A changing climate is also likely to alter species distribution, potentially favouring certain species over others. For example, Sitka spruce is less resistant to drought and so may be affected by drier summer conditions in the future. Climate change could also increase the incidence and severity of wildfires and extreme weather events such as wind storms, all of which could damage woodlands.
Herbivores and deer in particular are regarded as one of the primary drivers of native woodland deterioration. For example, deer can compromise a woodland's ability to regenerate due to browsing and changes in the habitat structure. Conversely, woodland expansion may result in effects on deer populations such as a reduction in open ground and displacement. Effective deer management can be a challenge due to practical, economic, and environmental considerations.
The evolution of the environment without the Forestry Strategy
Sustainable forest management is central to the Forestry Strategy and forms the basis for all relevant decisions taken by the current forestry regulator, Forestry Commission Scotland. The Strategy outlines how, through compliance with the UK Forestry Standard (UKFS), the principles of SFM will be implemented in practice.
The Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Act 2018 requires that Scottish Ministers have due regard to the Forestry Strategy when exercising their forestry functions, such as managing the existing National Forest Estate, and providing financial support to the sector. The Strategy will therefore play a critical role in shaping how Scottish Government resources are utilised: Without it, there would be no such guidance. Similarly, forestry is a long term consideration and without the implementation of the Forestry Strategy it is unlikely that as much priority and as full a commitment would be given to, amongst other matters, existing forestry, climate change and biodiversity objectives and targets.
If the Forestry Strategy were not to be implemented, the opportunity to address the issue of sympathetic integration of forestry with other land-uses would also be missed.
The 2005 Act requires that the Scottish Government also identify, describe and evaluate the likely significant effects on the environment of any 'reasonable alternatives' to the draft Strategy, taking into account its objectives and geographical scope.
Consideration of alternatives was undertaken in discussion with a wide range of stakeholders. The extent to which alternatives could be considered 'reasonable' was influenced by the existing legislative and policy context that the document must reference and align with, and the current Government commitments and targets such as the woodland creation target in the Climate Change Plan 2018.
In developing the draft Strategy, the Scottish Government drew on evidence on the potential key issues facing forestry over the next 10 years (the period of the Strategy), and the requirements of the Act, as a basis for developing the 50-year vision and the 10-year economic, social and environmental objectives and priorities. These key issues, and the scope of the Strategy's vision, objectives and priorities for action were discussed with a broad range of Scottish Government policy teams, representatives from the SEA Consultation Authorities, and external stakeholders. Engagement with external stakeholders was mainly through the Forestry Strategy Reference Group (which includes representatives from the Confederation of Forest Industries, the National Farmers Union for Scotland, Scottish Environment Link, Scottish Natural Heritage, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, the Community Woodland Association and academia). This informed the development of the core content of the Strategy. Having taken this approach to the Strategy it was considered that there are no other reasonable alternatives.
Summary of the likely significant effects of the Forestry Strategy
The Environmental Report has found that the draft Forestry Strategy will have an overall positive impact across all aspects of the environment, with a few potential mixed effects anticipated across individual priorities with respect to the historic environment, landscape, biodiversity, air and soil. Table NTS1 shows the effect of each Strategy priority in relation to environmental objectives.
Population and human health is expected to experience positive effects over all of the priorities within the Forestry Strategy, for example, in terms of supporting recreation and improving urban landscapes. It is assumed that any potential negative effects such as the nuisance factors of dust and noise will be managed appropriately through the implementation of the principles of SFM under the UKFS.
Biodiversity, flora and fauna is anticipated to experience an overall positive effect from woodland creation, sustainable management of pests and diseases and broader promotion of the SFM principles. However, in terms of individual priorities 8 (Increase the use of Scotland's forests and woodlands to improve health and well-being, help people better understand forestry, and support wider Scottish Government activity to help children become confident and resilient members of Scottish society) and 9 (Enhance forestry's contribution to sustaining viable rural communities and increase the positive impact of forest and woodland management on other businesses, especially in agriculture and tourism), a mixed effect is predicted. An increase in visitor numbers to woodlands could potentially give rise to some negative effects effect on habitats and species, and as a result, careful management of these priorities will be required.
It is predicted that the effect on Soil will be positive overall, although, in relation to Priority 8, a potential for mixed effects on soil from increased visitor numbers was also noted.
There are predicted to be major positive effects on Air from Priorities 1 (Promote and develop the concept of sustainable forest management as it applies to Scotland) and 7. (Increase the natural capital value of Scotland's woodlands and forests by improving the condition of native woodlands and forests and increasing the positive impacts of forest and woodland management on biodiversity, air, water, soils, flood management, landscapes and the historic environment, mitigating the risks of negative impacts). For the majority of the remaining priorities there is expected to be neutral or positive effects on air for example, indirectly via the expansion of woodlands and introduction of low carbon heat systems. However, mixed effects are likely for Priority 2 (sustainable expansion of woodlands) and 6 (Increase efficiency, productivity and the value generated from forest products and services and help develop forestry's role in creating a low-carbon economy by supporting technological innovation, improving the capacity and skills of those working in the sector and developing existing and new markets), as, for example, forestry expansion will clearly have positive effects on air, whilst increased forestry operations could generate some local level emissions.
The water environment is expected to benefit overall from several priorities in terms of improvements expected for water quality and flood alleviation, and particularly positive effects are expected from three priorities including Priority 7 (on increasing natural capital value of native woodlands and forests) as well as Priorities 1 (on promoting SFM) and 2 (on sustainable expansion) as a result of the positive effects of sustainable afforestation.
For climatic factors the effects are predicted to be positive overall. There would be major positive effects over most of the priorities as a result of the increased contribution to carbon sequestration from afforestation and replacement of carbon intensive construction materials, as well as from the planting of species resilient to pests and diseases. More minor positive effects are expected from two remaining priorities (8 and 9) in terms of the positive effects on the environment gained from greater public awareness.
In terms of material assets positive effects are expected overall. There will be a major positive impact across seven of the ten priorities including priority 3 (wood fibre) and 9 (rural communities) as opportunities will increase for more people and businesses to benefit from forestry and also with the potential for the reduction in waste that goes to landfill. More minor positive effects are anticipated over priorities 8 and 10 from, for example, awareness of the environment and lessening flood events and consequent prevention of damage to infrastructure.
On balance the topics of landscape and historic environment are predicted to experience positive effects when woodlands and forest are well planned and designed, and for landscape, in the case of Priority 10 (urban forestry), in the provision of healthy living spaces. However, across four priorities more mixed effects may be experienced and would require planning and management to avoid potential local level conflict with other land uses and negative impacts from increased visitor numbers. Woodland and forest design should also be used to avoid or manage changes to the recognised character of cultural and historic landscapes.
Some uncertainties have been noted during the course of the assessment, as the Strategy is high-level in nature and does not, therefore, fully define the more specific actions that will be undertaken to implement it. Underlying this assessment is the assumption that all actions coming out of the Forestry Strategy will be in line with SFM principles, supported through compliance, where relevant, with the UKFS.
Table NTS1: Summary Assessment Table
|Topics:||Population and Human Health||Biodiversity, Flora and Fauna||Soil||Air||Water||Climatic Factors||Material Assets||Historic Environment||Landscape|
The 2005 Act requires information to be provided on measures that should be taken to prevent, reduce and as fully as possible offset any significant adverse effects on the environment of implementing the draft Strategy. These measures are often referred to as mitigation measures.
The assessment has concluded that the draft Strategy, with its core purpose of promoting and supporting sustainable forest management, will have overall positive environmental effects. There is potential for mixed effects in relation to some aspects of the environment: historic environment, landscape, and to a lesser extent, biodiversity, air quality and soil. Mitigation measures have been identified against the relevant priorities and include the provision of recreation and visitor plans where soil and biodiversity may be affected by trampling from additional visitor numbers, the use of Environmental Management Plans to manage on site air quality as a result of forestry operations, and the use of local forest and woodland strategies to minimise adverse impacts on landscape and historic environment.
A wide range of existing programmes are in place at the national and local level to report on environmental status and assess performance against established environmental indicators. Since the publication of the second Forestry Strategy, indicators have been developed which enable progress against the objectives to be assessed. These include indicators such as: area of native woodland, area of coniferous woodland and area of broadleaved woodland where timber production is a significant management objective.
Following the publication of this (the third) Forestry Strategy 2019-29, the Scottish Government will publish a detailed monitoring and reporting framework. A draft suite of progress indicators has been included within the draft Forestry Strategy to enable the Government to track progress against this Strategy's 10-year objectives and monitor forestry's contribution towards the Scottish Government's National Outcomes. The Government has asked for suggestions on monitoring via the consultation, to assist the process of finalising its approach to monitoring the implementation of the Strategy monitoring plan.
Therefore, it is anticipated that the outcomes from the SEA and the potential effects of the draft Strategy, can be monitored as an integral part of the monitoring of the Forestry Strategy itself. Further information on monitoring proposals will be set out in the Post Adoption SEA Statement.
How to comment on the Environmental Report
Comments on the Environmental Report are welcome by 29th November 2018. Details of how to comment can be found at https://consult.gov.scot/forestry/scotlands-forestry-strategy-2019-29/. Responses can be submitted by email, with the Respondent Information Form (Appendix E) to firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to the Forestry Strategy Team, Silvan House 231 Corstorphine Road Edinburgh EH12 7AT.
Email: Bob Frost