Earlier this summer, the Woodland Expansion Advisory Group (WEAG) published its findings on how conflict between farming and forestry could best be avoided, a work hailed as a breakthrough and duly endorsed by the Scottish Government as the way forward.
However, this week at a NFUS council meeting in Perth, it was evident that, at ground level, there still exists a great deal of suspicion and concern over the Forestry Commission’s role in achieving the political target of 10,000 hectares of new forests every year for the next decade.
Its commercial arm, Forest Enterprise, is expected to plant one tenth of that target figure and in order to do so has been buying up farms when they come on the market.
Dr Bob McIntosh, the Scottish Government’s environment and forestry director, told delegates that they had purchased some 29 farms so far.
He pointed out that none of those would be covered in blanket forestry; on average less than half the acreage of the farm was planted with the rest often continuing to be used for stock or crop.
The problem for hill farmers like Martin Kennedy, of Lurgan, Aberfeldy, is that the land that goes into trees is often the land essential for livestock enterprises on the hill.
“How much will your additional 10,000 hectares of forests affect the engine room of livestock production?” he asked, after pointing out there was a cumulative effect to the woodland target.
A similar point was made by union president Nigel Miller, who said that if forestry concentrated on a narrow band of land where trees could grow, this could lead to the sterilisation of much larger areas of ground with hill farmers unable to utilise high ground when the lower slopes were under trees.
Angus Smith of Aberdeenshire claimed this is what was being proposed on one of the farms bought by the commission Corniehaugh in the Deveron valley.
Smith said the current plans for the farm aimed to plant on the arable ground leaving out the moorland above. McIntosh tried to alleviate the concerns by initially pointing out that a survey of all the land in Scotland showed that the extra acreage being discussed was only 3.7 per cent of the available land.
That percentage did not include the results of James Hutton Institute research which showed there was a lot of land in their lower land classification categories which was not doing a great deal. This was land where there would be minimal impact on livestock production, he added.
With regard to the problems at Corniehaugh, he said all planting plans have been put on hold until a full assessment is made and after consultation with neighbours.
All other planting plans have been put on hold as well, McIntosh added, saying he hoped farmers and foresters could work harmoniously in the future
However, Roddy McDairmid, also from Aberfeldy, said he had not been impressed with consultation by the commission 30 years ago and he saw little improvement in the current situation.
Daye Tucker of Balfron, who has one third of her land under trees, was more positive over forestry, saying that her farm was now beginning to reap the benefits of the forest/farming mix.
Her local community is also involved and she saw both social and economic pluses from the two rural industries working together.