SCOTLAND must take responsibility for its own future timber needs and protect the world’s fragile forests by planting more trees now, industry experts have said.
Economic analyst Clive Suckling said major growing markets, especially in China and India, will “hoover up” global timber supplies so it is important for countries such as Scotland to develop its indigenous industry and reduce potential pressure on forests overseas.
He said: “Scotland’s timber industry is small in global terms but extremely successful, and has shown major growth in the last decade, with investment of around £50 million a year coming into the sector every year.
“How many primary sectors of the economy are showing this kind of growth?”
The growth in the forestry sector has been driven by an increase in available wood. However, Stuart Goodall, chief executive of industry body Confor, which promotes sustainable forestry, warned that businesses and policy-makers had to move quickly to secure the future of a sector which supports 40,000 jobs and adds £1.7 billion in annual value to the economy.
Mr Goodall said: “With almost 60 per cent of timber still imported, we have to grow our domestic industry. Scotland is the engine-room of the UK forestry and timber sector and that means increasing domestic planting rapidly.
“Failure to act will also have consequences overseas as we seek to secure our wood needs in an increasingly competitive global market. Forecasts indicate that increasing worldwide demand for wood will encourage other countries to look at increased exploitation of their indigenous forest, including parts of the world where forests are under pressure.”
The Scottish Government has targeted 100,000 hectares of planting – 60 per cent of it productive conifers that are harvested for the wood-processing sector – between 2012 and 2022.
But experts have warned that the targets will not be hit because of a fall-off in planting of commercial conifers, which are used to produce everyday products such as fencing, decking, kitchens and furniture.
Dr Andrew Cameron, a forestry expert at the University of Aberdeen, blamed a decline in commercial planting over the last 20 years on the fact that productive forestry had been side-lined, and pigeon-holed as not providing environmental benefit.
“We have a Utopian view and hide the importance of productive forestry, which has become an inconvenient truth”, said Dr Cameron. “The public has been sold a misty-eyed view of forestry. They get it much better on the continent; hundreds of years of experience of forest management in central Europe show commercial timber production, recreation and environmental protection are entirely compatible.”
Dr Cameron said Scotland was “very suitable for growing trees” but had only 18 per cent forest cover compared to the 37 per cent EU average.
The Scottish Government insisted that its plans will help boost the forestry sector.
A spokeswoman said: “Forestry in Scotland is a modern, vibrant, successful industry. We are committed to that continuing – and to planting 100,000 hectares of new woodland by 2022 – with around 60 per cent of this being productive forests.
“Recent timber forecasts estimate that over the next two decades the availability of timber will be at its highest ever levels in Scotland.”