Being hard-headed on softwood forests

Wood is used to make everything from paper to houses but we are now importing too much from overseas
Wood is used to make everything from paper to houses but we are now importing too much from overseas
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We’re barking up the right tree with target to plant 100,000 more by 2022, writes Stuart Goodall

YOU don’t have to live in a forest, for wood to be all around you. It might not always look like wood, and it’s rarely ever labelled as wood, but so much of our everyday environment is made from it.

You can get up from your wooden bed, open the wooden door in your timber-framed house and spend all day living, working and playing surrounded by wood. Food packaging, kitchens, furniture, buildings, newspapers (if, like me, you still enjoy turning and folding your pages), park benches, the carton your coffee or tea comes in and much more. These products are made from wood and it comes from forests.

If you buy a Sunday newspaper, you’re not consuming an Amazon­ian rainforest. Most paper is recycled, with the original wood coming from softwood trees, like the ones we grow. And when a tree is harvested it’s replaced with another in a cycle of regeneration that locks up carbon, provides jobs and benefits wildlife.

This link from wood products back to the forest is widely appreciated in most other countries, but we lost our “wood culture” many decades ago, even in Scotland. Now the UK is the third largest net importer of wood in the world. We expect others to produce our raw materials.

Scotland has standards for sustainably managing forests that are unsurpassed anywhere in the world and which are far, far better than most – we should take more responsibility for the products we consume and reap the benefits of well-managed woodland.

At a conference in Edinburgh last week, Confor launched a new animation that seeks to remind people of the link from our everyday lives back to the forest. We also presented a forestry manifesto for the Scottish election. At its heart is a call to achieve Scotland’s tree planting targets and maintain the flow of wood.

Just four months ago, Nicola Sturgeon made a public promise to deliver Scotland’s target of 100,000 hectares of new woodland (about the size of four Edinburghs) in the decade to 2022, at a rate of 10,000 ha every year.

However, since the target was first set, the planting rate has fallen short of 10,000ha annually and we now need to plant 13,000ha a year to 2022 to meet the 100,000ha target.

There is a growing recognition by politicians that those targets must be met. Michael Russell, the MSP who has detailed knowledge of forestry from his time as Minister for Environment between 2007 and 2009, was very clear at the conference that he will do everything he can to hit the 100,000ha target.

There are challenges to meeting it, but these can be overcome and the rewards will be worth it.

These challenges and rewards are outlined in the election manifesto, Growing a resilient Scotland. The manifesto was handed to all delegates at our conference and Mr Russell praised its “directness and simplicity”.

It has five key action points for the next Scottish Government:

• Hit the planting target of 100,000 hectares of new woodland in the decade to 2022;

• Improve the forestry applications system to encourage, rather than discourage, planting applications;
• Stimulate markets for wood and timber;

• Restock all our forests;

• Continue supporting timber transport.

We know it’s not easy to find suitable land for planting and I was heartened that the National Sheep Association and National Farmers Union Scotland accept that forestry and farming can work together. This is a crucial relationship; as Alex Fergusson and Jim Hume, both farmers turned politicians, said at the conference, it’s not about forestry or farming, it’s about forestry AND farming.

On behalf of the sector, Confor will continue working constructively with farmers and wider communities to get our message across, and to help deliver the target.

The forestry and timber sector wants to be a good neighbour and we are developing a simple protocol for working with communities and continuing to support exceptional schemes like Timberlink, which have taken more than a million tonnes of timber off rural roads.

And we can even build those neighbourhoods. Scotland’s forests are creating what Sean Smith, a timber innovation expert at Edinburgh Napier University, called “Green Gold” at the conference. Wood is a great material to build with; flexible, energy-efficient and sustainable.

The next Scottish Government needs to help us secure the future of our £1 billion industry and the rural jobs and investment it provides – and to help us reduce atmospheric carbon and create new havens for wildlife and recreation.

It’s time to plant now – so we can see the wood, and the trees.

• Stuart Goodall is chief executive of Confor: promoting forestry and wood: www.confor.org.uk

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