Forestry sector in softwood planting warning

SCOTLAND’S £1 billion forestry industry will come under threat from a lack of softwood if the Scottish Government does not raise support for planting, the sector’s trade body has warned.

Confors Stuart Goodall is asking for forestry support. Picture: Getty
Confors Stuart Goodall is asking for forestry support. Picture: Getty

Stuart Goodall, chief executive of Confor, called for ministers to increase forestry grants from £36 million to £45m to incentivise landowners to plant trees – such as furs, pines and spruces – instead of taking common agricultural policy (CAP) subsidies.

Goodall said: “We’ve been seeing a decrease in the area of softwood in Scotland as we modernise our forests and make them more diverse.

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“We’ve seen huge growth in the industry because of the softwood supply and if we’re not able to create areas to balance what is being lost then that will start to hit business confidence and investment.

“Planting won’t happen without public support because if you want to encourage a landowner to plant trees, then it’s almost certain they will be receiving grants from CAP. So what you have to do is give them a financial incentive to put aside their CAP income and instead invest in forestry.”

Goodall added: “If the private sector was to do that itself then the first thing it would have to do is buy out a government subsidy. We’re looking for government to offset the CAP subsidy with forestry grant support. For restructuring and diversifying, they currently provide £36m a year.

“To deliver all the planting we and the environmental organisations are looking for and which the government has committed to delivering – that’s 10,000 hectares of new planting a year plus the support to diversify existing forests – we reckon it would require closer to £45m a year, which is small beer compared with what’s spent on agriculture.”

His comments come in the wake of last week’s International Softwood Conference in Edinburgh.

A Forestry Commission Scotland spokesman said: “Our budget of £36m should meet demand for grants. However, we recognise the need to keep this under review.”