Scotland's Forestry Strategy 2019–2029

Long-term framework for the expansion and sustainable management of Scotland's forests and woodland.

Strategic drivers

The achievement of our objectives and realisation of the vision will be influenced by many factors. In consultation with others, we have identified key strategic drivers that will need to be considered if we are to succeed in realising our vision. Our response to these drivers is described in Section 5.

Sustainable forest management and forestry good practice in a scottish context

The internationally recognised principles of sustainable forest management must underpin forestry policies and practice. In Scotland the commitment to these principles has been formalised under the Forest and Land Management (Scotland) Act 2018, which places a duty on Scottish Ministers and Scottish public authorities to promote sustainable forest management. The key documents that explain what sustainable management means in practice are the UK Forestry Standard (UKFS) and its supporting guidelines[3]. Meeting the requirements of the UKFS is a prerequisite for Scottish Government funding and approval for forest plans and forest operations.

A detailed understanding of the UKFS and its associated good practice is required for those working in forestry. It is also important that wider stakeholders and the general public understand the principles of the UKFS and how they are applied. It appears from the consultation on this Strategy and wider public discourse about forestry that there remains a wider lack of understanding about the value and benefits of sustainable forest and woodland creation and management, which can lead to confusion and misunderstanding.

Wood and wood fibre supply and demand

The UK imports around 60% of its wood and wood products and this has been predicted to rise to 78% by 2050[18]. At the same time, demand for wood fibre is predicted to rise globally, which is likely to result in an increase in the cost of imports.

The main wood fibre produced in Scotland for downstream processing and manufacture is softwood from fast-growing, highly productive conifer species. An increasing proportion of this is being harvested from privately owned forests and woodland. Forecasts for 2030–50 predict that there will be a decline in softwood availability within Scotland[19], mainly due to the decline in productive planting (since the 1980s), but also because of areas of woodland loss due to development[20]. To support economic growth in the forestry and other land-based sectors by securing investor confidence, it will be important to address this forecasted future decline in softwood availability.

Forecasts for 2030–50 predict that there will be a decline in softwood availability within Scotland.

Productive hardwood from Scotland’s forests and woodlands is produced in much smaller volumes. However, there are opportunities to expand, and more sustainably managed broadleaved forests and woodlands will improve the supply and quality of hardwood timber.

Understanding and responding to the balance of supply and demand for Scottish wood fibre and products is fundamental to achieving sustainable economic growth in the sector, and supporting delivery of the aims and objectives of both Scotland’s National Performance Framework[1]and the Scottish Forest Timber & Technologies Industry Leadership Group (ILG) strategy – Roots for Further Growth[21]. It is also important for delivery of the Scottish Energy Strategy[22], due to the significance of biomass from woodland.

Climate change mitigation

The Scottish Government recognises that climate change is one of the greatest global threats we face. Scotland is committed to playing its part in achieving the ambitions set out in the Paris Agreement, which provides a framework for delivering concerted global action to deal with the threat.

The creation of new forests and woodlands is recognised as an important tool for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

For each new hectare of forest and woodland created, it is estimated that, on average, seven tonnes of CO2 will be removed from the atmosphere each year. The creation of new forests and woodlands is therefore recognised as an important tool for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and helping to meet our statutory climate change targets. As such, the Climate Change Plan includes commitments to incrementally increase the annual woodland creation target from 10 000 to 15 000 ha per year by 2024/25[4].

While the forest and woodland creation target will help deliver additional carbon reductions, the existing resource must also be managed sustainably to preserve Scotland’s carbon sink and support the development of a low-carbon economy through the continued production of wood products, for other sectors such as construction or for fuel.

Markets, value and efficiency

As well as actions to optimise the supply and demand of timber, and help achieve our ambition to have more thriving and innovative businesses[1], there are exciting opportunities to grow and expand existing businesses and markets, for example, through capitalising on the increasing demand for sustainable construction and infrastructure materials, as well as biomass.

There are also opportunities for new wood fibre markets and value-added products such as cellulosic plastics from biorefineries*, placing a greater emphasis on the need to maximise wood fibre recovery from Scotland’s forests and woodlands.

New technology, research and innovation also offer great potential to help stimulate higher efficiency and productivity throughout the supply chain, from forest nurseries through to wood fibre processing companies. For example, remote sensing could be used to monitor forests and provide significantly more data to support decision-making, and real-time information could be used to improve connectivity between the forest and the sawmill.

Adaptation and resilience

Forests and woodlands can also help us adapt to climate change by, for example, providing natural flood management and shelter for livestock. However, Scotland’s forests and woodlands also need to adapt to a changing climate and become more resilient to the growing threats and challenges they face.

As a result of climate change, projections for Scotland show that over the next 50 years, tree growth rates are likely to increase because of longer, warmer growing seasons, particularly in cooler and wetter areas[23]. At the same time, the threat to forests and woodlands from extreme weather events and wildfires is expected to rise.

Given the changing climate and greater globalisation of trade and travel, it is also anticipated that the threat to trees from pests and diseases will grow. This is supported by evidence showing that until the mid-1990s, significant tree pest and disease incursions in the UK were experienced once every decade, but since 2005 the pace and scale of these challenges has escalated considerably[24].The UK’s withdrawal from the EU will introduce new plant health risks, given likely changes to previously common approaches to biosecurity.

While wild deer and other herbivores are a valuable part of forest and woodland ecosystems, high numbers of animals can damage trees. This can be a challenge to successful woodland establishment, as can the presence of invasive species such as Rhododendron ponticum. Invasive species and deer both restrict the natural regeneration of forests and woodlands and increase establishment and management costs[25,26]. The Scottish Government supports the principles of the Wild Deer National Approach (WDNA)[27] and this Strategy will support the implementation of the WDNA.

The sustainable management of wild deer populations, the protection of trees from herbivore browsing and the control of invasive species are therefore important aspects of resilience and sustainable forest management.

Integrated land use

Managing forests and woodlands without due consideration of how they interact with surrounding land uses has been a criticism of forestry in the past. In some instances, tensions have arisen due to a lack of understanding about the benefits of creating and managing forests and woodlands, and the opportunities they can provide. As a result, land use and management has sometimes been sub-optimal.

The Scottish Government’s Land Use Strategy[2] provides the framework to address this issue, supporting better integration between forestry and other land uses to help us get the best from our land, now and in the future.

Skills and workforce

The forestry sector, with many family-owned, small and medium businesses, is growing and thereby increasing its demands for ‘forest floor’ jobs, as well as diversifying and requiring more varied skills. At the same time, in common with other land-based industries, forestry has an ageing workforce and is experiencing challenges in attracting and retaining young people[21].

To meet future demands we need to address the skills development requirements of the existing workforce, as well as attract a more diverse range of talented people to work in the sector, and ensure that appropriate qualifications and training opportunities are available.

Natural assets, environmental quality and biodiversity

The Scottish Government is committed to protecting, enhancing and valuing Scotland’s environment[1] and increasing stocks of natural capital. Scotland’s forests and woodlands can help to support delivery of our biodiversity strategy[28] as well as the Scottish Soil Framework[29] and our approach to River Basin Management Planning[30].

All Scotland’s forests, woodlands and associated open ground habitats provide some biodiversity value. However, suitably managed native, and in particular ancient and semi-natural woodlands, including appropriately restored plantations on ancient woodland sites (PAWS), will contribute the most. The area of Scotland’s native forest is expanding and 46% of native forest area is in satisfactory condition for biodiversity. In March 2017, 68.1% of native woodland features in protected areas were in good condition[31].

There are also opportunities to manage Scotland’s forests and woodlands to enhance the environmental benefits they provide, including helping to manage water quantities in times of flood or water scarcity, protecting and improving water quality, helping to reduce soil erosion and improve slope stability.

Many of Scotland’s existing forests and woodlands were planted before the formal concept of sustainable forest management was adopted, around 20 years ago. We are therefore still dealing with the impacts of some forestry practices carried out prior to this. These practices included the siting and design of forests and woodlands that did not reflect sensitive landscapes, take into account priority habitats and areas of deep peat, or appropriately consider other land-use objectives. These impacts are now being addressed when the forests and woodlands are harvested, so that their redesign and replanting meet the requirements of the UKFS.

Sustaining thriving rural communities

Rural areas in Scotland are facing problems of depopulation[32]. Scotland’s forests and woodlands can contribute to creating and sustaining thriving rural communities by providing quality jobs and attractive environments, and by supporting the provision of affordable rural housing.

Greater involvement of communities in decisions about forests and woodlands, as well as in direct management and ownership, also helps to increase communities’ control and influence over their local environments, leading to greater empowerment. For example, Scotland has around 200 community groups that are involved in owning or managing forests and woodlands[15], including nearly 7000 ha which has been transferred from the National Forest Estate.

Tourism is a significant economic sector across rural Scotland and around a fifth of the economic value generated by Scotland’s forests and woodlands is derived from tourism (e.g. mountain biking and wildlife tourism). Enabling more local businesses and woodland owners and managers to benefit from this expanding market will help provide them with additional income streams and support local economies.

There is, however, a potential challenge, which is that as the economic contribution of Scotland’s woodlands and forests grows, the risk of possible negative effects on local communities and their environments also increases. For example, greater visitor traffic and timber transportation could potentially impact on communities, particularly if the rural transport network is not adapted to accommodate these changes in use.

Landscape quality and the historic environment

Scotland’s forests and woodlands are recognised internationally for their contribution to Scotland’s scenic beauty, and many of this country’s highly regarded natural and cultural landscapes are a key reason why people visit and explore Scotland. They are also the location for a range of important historic monuments and features.

In the coming years we need to ensure that the stewardship and steady expansion of forests and woodlands continues to positively contribute to the quality of Scotland’s landscapes, and that these practices protect and conserve important historic monuments and features.

Health and well-being

People’s well-being is a core element of the Scottish Government’s Purpose and we are committed to ensuring that the people of Scotland are healthy, active and able to contribute to society[1]. Forests and woodlands can help to achieve these ambitions by providing spaces for people to exercise, relax, play and learn.

Numerous studies have identified a positive relationship between greenspace (particularly greenspace that includes trees) and population health[33]. Outdoor recreation can make an important contribution to helping improve the nation’s health and enabling people to enjoy Scotland’s environment. Forest and woodland managers can facilitate this by designing new forests and managing existing woodlands to complement local access networks or by creating visitor attractions within their forests and woodlands.

However, while we know that forests and woodlands can contribute to improved physical health, the evidence is particularly strong in terms of the restorative potential of forests and woodlands for people’s mental well-being and quality of life[12]: not just by access and use, but also through their aesthetic contribution to the places where people live and the landscapes they enjoy[34].

Evidence also shows that for children who are given the opportunity to experience outdoor learning and play, often there are associated improvements in their physical, social and emotional development, as well as in their disposition to learning and their attainment levels[35].

Urban forestry

Given that over two-thirds of the Scottish population live in urban settlements, to deliver our ambition to provide ‘...opportunities for all of Scotland to flourish...’[1], we need to recognise the important role that urban forests and woodlands can play and the range of benefits that they can provide to urban populations.

Urban forestry (Box 4) represents an opportunity to benefit a significant proportion of the Scottish population, providing accessible spaces for active travel, exercise and other forms of recreation, promoting physical and mental health and well-being, improving social inclusion and helping to reduce health inequalities[15].

The National Planning Framework 3[36] and the Central Scotland Green Network[37] demonstrate how well-managed urban forestry can also make an important contribution to improving the physical quality of urban environments and to help mitigate the impacts of increasing urban development, for example, by improving air quality and reducing rainfall run-off intensity and flooding. It can also help to economically regenerate degraded urban landscapes, including vacant, derelict and contaminated sites.

In 2018, the Scottish Ministers signed a pledge, alongside other main political parties, that acknowledges the important role that urban woodlands, forests and trees play in Scotland’s towns and cities. It also recognises the need for continued partnership working among communities, public bodies, the private sector and individuals to sustain these benefits. 





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