Farming: Foresters and farmers speak the same language

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Peace is breaking out in the long-running battle between livestock production and trees in Scotland’s hill and upland areas following a meeting between the Forestry Commission, NFU Scotland (NFUS), the Scottish Tenant Farmers Association (STFA) and the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers.

The latest row has been sparked by the purchase of 29 farms by the commission’s commercial arm, Forestry Enterprise Scotland, to help meet the Scottish Government’s target of 10,000 hectares a year of new woodland planting in Scotland over the next ten years.

The government has called a halt on further farm purchases by the commission following accusations of lack of consultation with local communities and farming interests. A recent report from the Woodland Expansion Advisory Group (WEAG), accepted by the government, called on foresters to work more closely with farmers to ensure that “woodland creation fits in with agriculture”.

The government’s environment and forestry director, Dr Bob McIntosh, told the NFUS council last week that livestock displacement would be unavoidable to meet the government’s planting target but said only 3.7 per cent of the land potentially available for planting would be required.

According to the commission, yesterday’s meeting reached a consensus on how farmers and foresters can work together to develop practical guidance on land suitable for tree planting and opportunities for closer integration with agriculture. The need for the commission to give local communities a say was also stressed.

“A number of very useful suggestions for improving our processes emerged from the meeting and I will be discussing these with the cabinet secretary, Richard Lochhead,” said McIntosh.

NFUS president Nigel Miller, said the WEAG report and recommendations provided a positive policy framework and set of principles for woodland expansion in the future.

“The next step is to establish a clear route to allow local agricultural interests to link in to the planning and consultation states from the outset,” said Miller. “Positive engagement with all interested parties will help smooth what can be a difficult decision-making process.”

STFA chairman Angus McCall welcomed the commission’s commitment to give rural stakeholders a great involvement in tree planting proposals.

“We have long been critical of government tree planting policies which have seen many good stock farms sold for tree planting, some as a result of private afforestation but many through the commission’s policy of land banking,” said McCall.

A freedom of information request from the SFTA last year revealed that, over the previous six years, the commission had bought more than 20,000 hectares of land.

McCall said the WEAG recommendations had established agreed principles which should govern future tree planting in Scotland.

“Chief amongst these is the need for greater consultation at a local level with communities and farmers and also a presumption against whole farm planting,” said McCall.

Last week, McIntosh said only 45 per cent of the land on farms purchased had been designated for planting and the remaining land would be available for grazing.

“We would like to see this land being used as an opportunity to demonstrate best practice in the integration of farming and forestry,” said McCall. “We would also welcome the creation of more starter units for young farmers and the retention of the better land in long-term agricultural production.”