Royal Highland Show 2012: New strategy helps see the wood for the trees

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A finely-tuned balance between farming and forestry is vital if woodland expansion is to proceed painlessly, writes Andrew Arbuckle

A report published yesterday claimed that the planting of 100,000 hectares of new woodland in Scotland in the next decade would “at worst” reduce agricultural production by 2 per cent.

The Woodland Expansion Advisory Group was set up ten months ago by the Scottish government to cool the argument created by the perceived threat to farming by its target of 25 per cent of the country being planted with trees.

And judging by the response to its findings, the group under the chairmanship of Dr Andrew Barbour, a farmers and woodland consultant in Perthshire, appear to have bridged the gap with organisations as disparate as NFU Scotland and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds welcoming its 24 recommendations.

Admittedly the original government planting target has now been scaled back to a new one of 100,000 hectares by the year 2022. The 25 per cent figure has now, in government language, been downgraded to an “aspirational” target.

The secret of getting more trees in the ground without antagonising farmers, according to Barbour, will lie in planting the right trees in the right place.

But behind that simplistic comment lay a wider view that there needed to be more integration between farming, forestry and the wider desires of society.

“Woodland expansion through public money has to get the balance right between government policy objectives and private interests. If we are to get the benefits from tree planting, we need to break down old cultural barriers and bring the land-based industries closer together so that they work in a more integrated way. This is especially true with farming and forestry,” said Dr Barbour.

Included in the 24 recommendations is one proposing the removal of “unnecessary layers of complexity” from the Scottish Rural Development Programme.

The need to include tree planting in the forthcoming reform of the Common Agricultural Policy’s environmental policies was also identified by the group as helping to increase future tree planting.

Accepting the report, cabinet secretary of rural affairs and the environment, Richard Lochhead said he would respond as “quickly as possible” to its recommendations.

“Forestry will play a key part in Scotland’s low-carbon future, making an important contribution to reducing net green house gas emissions from rural land use. It brings in £670 million each year to our economy and supports 31,000 jobs, many of these in rural areas.”

He revealed that last year, 9,000 hectares of new woodland had been planted in Scotland, a jump from 5,100 hectares the year before.

Listening to the minister, Stuart Goodall chief executive of the commercial industry organisation, Confor, stressed the importance of having at least 60 per cent of new plantings in commercial forestry, otherwise there would be an adverse effect on the country’s sawmills.

NFU Scotland president Nigel Miller declared himself happy with the report, agreeing there was room for more integration between forestry and farming, especially in the livestock areas of Scotland.

For Stuart Housden, RSPB director, one of the plus points in the report was the rejection of blanket forestry which he stated damaged wildlife and important habitats.