Publication - Consultation paper

Scotland's Forestry Strategy 2019-2029 draft: strategic environmental assessment

Published: 22 Nov 2018

Findings of the strategic environmental assessment (SEA) of the consultation draft of Scotland's Forestry Strategy 2019-2029.

120 page PDF

2.5 MB

120 page PDF

2.5 MB

Scotland's Forestry Strategy 2019-2029 draft: strategic environmental assessment
3 Environmental baseline

120 page PDF

2.5 MB

3 Environmental baseline

3.1.1 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 PPS. The Strategy will be assessed against this baseline to provide an indication of the type and significance of any environmental impacts that could arise.

3.1.2 Scotland is a relatively small country of 77 911 km2 with a population of approximately 5.43 million people[19]. 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%)[20]. 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)[21]. Since 1997, Scotland's population has grown by about 6%[22] and future projections estimate Scotland's population will grow by an additional 6.1% by 2041, to a total of roughly 5.69 million[23].

3.1.3 Scotland is internationally renowned for its varied and dramatic landscapes including impressive mountain ranges, broad plateaus, expansive lowlands, and striking coastal features[24]. Many of these are the result of ancient glacial and periglacial activity as well as changes in sea level[25]. The three primary landscape classifications are the Central Lowlands, the Highlands and Islands to the north and west, and the Southern Uplands[26]. Situated among these natural features are the many iconic manmade landmarks and townscapes that help to give Scotland its reputation as a tourist destination[27].

3.1.4 Some five thousand years ago, Scotland's landscape was a complex mosaic of natural vegetation, dominated by woodland cover which stretched all the way to Shetland and the Western Isles[28]. What followed though was the shift towards a cooler, wetter climate, which transformed much of this formerly forested land into peat, inhospitable to tree succession, combined with early agriculture on the better soils which prompted deforestation on an extensive scale in these areas[29]. The 17th and 18th centuries brought new pressures on the use of land, although where there was demand for woodland products such as charcoal and timber, those woodlands with a clear purpose and value tended to be protected and well managed. Despite large scale tree planting initiatives during the 18th and 19th centuries forest cover ultimately fell to a historic low of about 5% in 1900[30].

3.1.5 This chronic lack of trees and timber was recognised as a strategic problem for the country, and so the UK Forestry Act of 1919 was introduced to address the issue. Given this strategic need to grow more timber, the forests planted in Scotland during the subsequent 100 years were primarily, but not exclusively, designed to optimise timber production, using species from around the world that could thrive in Scotland's relatively favourable growing conditions.

3.1.6 As our understanding of the environment and these new forests has developed, so has the practice of modern Scottish forestry. In particular, over the second half of the 20th century, it became clear that the industrial, intensive, single-purpose forestry that dominated the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s was not sustainable, and an approach was required that needed to embrace environmental and wider societal interests. This change of focus for forestry policy resulted in the development of comprehensive standards for forest management in the 1990's, drawing on international initiatives stemming from the first Earth Summit in Rio in 1992.

3.1.7 Today, forests and woodlands cover 19% of Scotland's total land area[31]. Even so, Scotland has significantly less forest cover than most other European countries[32].

3.1.8 Hundreds of years of human intervention and the impacts of climate change have altered Scotland's forests so that no woodlands in Scotland can be regarded as truly natural[33]. 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[34].

3.1.9 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[35]. 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[36].

3.1.10 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[37]. Much like native woodlands, ancient woodlands are often fragmented[38] and are therefore vulnerable to further degradation[39].

3.1.11 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 thrives above the treeline along Scotland's hills and mountains[40].

3.1.12 Minor woodlands include aspen woodland, urban and amenity woodland, and individual and small groups of trees[41]. Despite their relatively limited spatial extent, these types of woodland perform many vital functions, such as providing greenspace in urban environments and serving as a "living record" of historic land uses.

3.1.13 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[42]. Pests[43] and diseases[44] can cause physical damage or tree death while invasive non-native species can alter species composition and disrupt woodland ecosystems[45], including native woodlands[46]. Unmanaged woodland recreation could also introduce problems such as trampling, the disturbance of wildlife, and the introduction of pathogens[47].

3.1.14 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[48]. 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[49]. Climate change could also increase the incidence and severity of wildfires[50] and extreme weather events such as wind storms[51], all of which could damage woodlands.

3.1.15 Herbivores and deer in particular are regarded as a primary driver of woodland deterioration. For example, deer can compromise a woodland's ability to regenerate due to browsing and changes in the habitat structure[52]. Conversely, woodland expansion may result in effects on deer populations such as a reduction in open ground and displacement where fencing is not carefully planned and implemented. Effective deer management can be a challenge due to practical, economic, and environmental considerations.

3.1.16 Further baseline information relating to Scotland's forests is presented in Appendix C. Baseline information for each SEA topic is presented, including descriptive statistics, current condition(s), general existing pressures and past and projected trends, if known. Where practical, data has been tailored with relevance to forests. This is intended to give an account of the present state of Scotland's environment as well as an indication of its likely evolution in the absence of the plan in order to place any potential impacts of the third Forestry Strategy into an appropriate environmental context. 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.

3.2 Environmental issues relevant to the strategy

3.2.1 Schedule 3 (4) of the SEA Act requires the Environmental Report to include a description of existing environmental problems, in particular those relating to any areas of specific environmental importance. It can be helpful to explore whether a PPS could cause or exacerbate known environmental problems within the area of the PPS, be constrained or affected by existing problems.

3.2.2 In line with this requirement Table 3 highlights the potential environmental opportunities and issues that could be caused by poor forestry practice and the opportunities that could be realised from the implementation of good forestry practice (i.e. compliance with the UKFS).. As mentioned previously the core foundation of the Forestry Strategy is the promotion of the internationally recognised principles of SFM. These international principles have been 'translated' into the UKFS[53] which is the Scottish Government's bench mark for SFM in Scotland. The UKFS is a code of practice laying out the legal and good practice requirements that woodland and forest managers should follow to ensure that their woods are managed sustainably and therefore avoiding the potential environmental problems that can arise through poor forestry practice. The UKFS includes within it a number of more detailed supporting guidelines ensuring forestry practice avoids, mitigates and minimises detrimental impacts on the environment. These guidelines include:

  • Forests and Biodiversity
  • Forests and Climate Change
  • Forests and Historic Environment
  • Forests and Landscape
  • Forests and People
  • Forests and Soil
  • Forests and Water

3.2.3 In addition to the above, additional guidance is also available for forest workers and managers to further develop and communicate good practice approaches. For example, the Forestry and Water Initiative[54] provides information and guidance on good water management practices for forestry operations.

3.2.4 Compliance with the UKFS will mitigate the negative impact of forestry on the environment, as it underpins all government regulation and support covered by the Strategy.

3.2.5 Furthermore, the Forestry (Environmental Impact Assessment) (Scotland) Regulations 2017[55] requires that new forestry projects take account of any likely significant environmental effects and the opportunities to avoid, prevent or reduce such effects, before a consent is granted.

3.2.6 Table 3 has been updated as a result of Consultation Authority comments to the Scoping Report.

3.2.7 During the SEA process existing environmental concerns were taken into account and consideration was given to, where necessary, mitigation measures as detailed in Section 7.

Table 3: The current environmental opportunities/issues related to Forestry


Environmental Opportunities/Issues

Population and human health


  • provision of access to green space and other outdoor spaces, including in areas of existing deprivation[56];
  • enhanced visual amenity value from urban woodlands, with opportunities to screen unsightly development;
  • rural employment and economic enhancement;
  • opportunities for outdoor play and learning for young people[57];
  • decreased levels of obesity and other health problems associated with physical inactivity[58];
  • improved connections between individuals/communities and land in terms of use, management, and ownership[59].


  • reduced air quality, noise pollution, and nuisance from forestry operations (e.g. felling, timber transport routes)
  • risks to forest-workers' health and safety from forestry operations.

Biodiversity, flora, and fauna


  • benefits to native and ancient woodland;
  • improved habitat quality, quantity, and connectivity;
  • benefits to upland environments from woodland expansion (e.g. carbon storage, soil stabilisation, flood attenuation);
  • creation of additional habitats for biodiversity[60];
  • protection of native woodland, public access, and landscape appearance;
  • more effective action to mitigate threats from tree disease.


  • incidence and prevalence of tree diseases (e.g. ash dieback[61]) and pests;
  • deer browsing impacts and loss of woodland structure, and potential associated effects of deer management on deer welfare;
  • impacts of invasive non-native species (e.g. rhododendron[62]);
  • woodland habitat fragmentation (e.g. Atlantic Rainforest);
  • neglect or lack of management[63];
  • mismanagement (e.g. "scrub" clearance[64]);
  • impacts of poorly planned and designed woodland expansion (e.g. vulnerability to disease due to monocultures; interactions with native woodlands; impacts on open-ground habitats, land management practices etc.).



  • soil stabilisation, including in upland areas;
  • inputs of organic matter from decomposing vegetation[65].


  • planting of soils with high carbon content may be damaged and release greenhouse gases;
  • potential erosion, landslides, compaction, and contamination of soil from sub-standard forestry operations (e.g. from vehicle movements);
  • alterations to soil biodiversity.



  • natural flood risk management;
  • reductions in river water temperatures through creation of riparian woodland;
  • water filtration by trees;
  • reduced pollutant and sediment delivery to water bodies from forested areas[66];
  • desynchronised flood flows[67].


  • high water consumption by trees[68];
  • reductions in water quality due to increased sedimentation and turbidity arising from sub-standard forestry operations;
  • diffuse pollution (e.g. phosphorous) originating from fertiliser application;
  • changes in river bank morphology due to erosion;
  • acidification of water bodies in areas with mature conifer forests and vulnerable geology[69];
  • increased susceptibility to floods due to increased runoff and shorter retention times following poorly planned forest harvesting operations;
  • reduce water yield (surface and ground water)[70].



  • improved local air quality due to removal of certain air pollutants (e.g. NO2, particulates) by trees[71].


  • benefits could in theory be reduced by possible increases in localised NO2 levels in some cases and emissions of biogenic volatile organic compounds (BVOCs) by certain plant varieties (associated with increases in ozone pollution[72]
  • reduced air quality from forestry operations due to emissions from forest machinery and timber transportation vehicles.

Climatic factors


  • mitigation of the impacts of climate change through the sequestration of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere;
  • contributions to climate change adaptation across other sectors through well-designed forests (e.g. the provision of natural flood management, the provision of shade and shelter for livestock, etc.);
  • opportunities for increases in productivity due to improvements in the fitness of certain species in response to changing environmental conditions.


  • potential for decreased productivity due to declines in the fitness of certain species in response to changing environmental conditions;
  • unchecked spread of pests and pathogens and increases in their occurrence (e.g. red band needle blight) as a result of climate change;
  • potential release of greenhouse gases from the afforestation of soils with high carbon content[73];
  • increased incidence of flooding, extreme weather events, wind throw[74], and fires as a result of climate change.

Historic environment


  • benefits for woodlands with historic value (e.g. ancient woodlands);
  • opportunities for historic features to be accessed and presented for public enjoyment through appropriate conservation management.


  • destruction of archaeological remains due to poorly planned and sub-standard 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;
  • potential for woodland to have a masking effect on historic landscapes including within designated landscapes (National Scenic Areas and Local Landscape Areas) and Inventory Battlefields and Gardens and Designed Landscapes (GDL) and the wider cultural landscape of Scotland.

Material assets


  • improvements in land quality, particularly vacant and derelict land;
  • improvements in appearance of transport routes (road, rail, active travel, and canal based);
  • reuse of forestry residues (e.g. brash) from operations for ecological benefit.


  • unsustainable management of forest resources[75];
  • competing land uses (e.g. agriculture, landfills, transport infrastructure, energy infrastructure, etc.)[76];
  • production of waste from forestry operations (e.g. plastics).



  • enhanced landscape appearance through the spatial distribution and species structure of woodland;
  • seasonal contribution of trees (autumn colours) to the visual diversity of wooded landscapes;
  • opportunities for positive changes to a forest's contribution to landscape quality through managed change.


  • modifications/changes to landscape character and appearance due to poorly planned and designed afforestation[77];
  • visual screening of geological features (e.g. "landscape sculptures"[78]) due to poorly planned and designed afforestation;
  • visual enclosure of a landscape through afforestation;
  • altered patterns of land use through poorly planned and designed afforestation.

3.3 Likely evolution of the environment without implementation of the strategy

3.3.1 The SEA process requires an assessment of the likely evolution of the environment without the Forestry Strategy being implemented. In relation to the current trends identified in the existing Scottish environment, without the implementation of the Forestry Strategy it is anticipated that certain environmental indicators, such as the ecological condition of native woodlands would either deteriorate or would not achieve their full environmental potential.

3.3.2 In addition SFM is central to the Forestry Strategy not least since under the new regulatory 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. Without the Strategy an opportunity to further SFM would be lost with the potential for positive effects across each topic not being realised.

3.3.3 Scottish Ministers must also have regard to the Forestry Strategy when they are carrying out their forestry functions (e.g. managing the existing National Forest Estate, financial provision etc.). A strategy provides the long-term strategic framework for these functions, which may not be as clearly articulated if it did not exist.

3.3.4 Forestry is a long term consideration and the absence of the new Forestry Strategy, aligned with SFM, which states the Government's long-term commitment to the delivery of its associated benefits and associated targets, may undermine the delivery of forestry's significant contribution towards the Government's climate change and biodiversity commitments.

3.3.5 If the Forestry Strategy were not to be implemented it would be a missed opportunity to address the issue of sympathetic integration of forestry with other land-uses; a missed opportunity in terms of integrated and co-ordinated land management in line with the Land Use Strategy.

3.3.6 Although the current trend in human health would continue to improve in the absence of the Strategy, this would result in a missed opportunity to encourage people and communities to explore, enjoy and value Scotland's natural environment.

3.3.7 Without a strategy, it is likely that forest management and expansion would take place in an ad-hoc manner. Some investors would not engage without the confidence in a long term positive vision for forestry in Scotland, making the achievement of targets difficult. Regulatory cases for felling and planting would also have no framework for assessment, resulting in the potential for sub-optimal solutions in relation to Scotland's long-term ambitions for sustainable and inclusive economic growth.


Email: Amy Nicolson