Expansion of commercial forestry means you can’t see the farmers for the trees

It could soon be a case of “you can’t see the farmers for the trees” if the expansion of commercial forestry into productive hill farms continues, it has been claimed.

NFU Scotland vice president, Andrew Connon
NFU Scotland vice president, Andrew Connon

And a leading farming body yesterday made it plain that while it was supportive of the integration of woodlands into farm businesses, it remained fundamentally opposed to the wholesale and irreversible land use change of largescale forestry expansion on productive agricultural land.

NFU Scotland vice president, Andrew Connon said that members were contacting the union on a “weekly if not daily basis” about the loss of productive Scottish agricultural land to wholesale forestry, which he claimed raised the spectre of a new round of Highland clearances:

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“Such growth in recent times has been fuelled by non-agricultural businesses purchasing land for planting to offset carbon emissions and boost their green credentials,” said Connon who said this was eroding Scotland’s capacity to improve its self-sufficiency in food.

Stating that the union had met recently with the rural affairs cabinet secretary Mairi Gougeon and environment minister Mairi McAllan to discuss this “increasingly serious issue” he said:

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“We accept that land use is never a straight choice and integrated land use is clearly a major part of reaching net zero targets. But we are equally clear that optimal land use is the only route to attaining multiple objectives, and that must include food production, climate change ambitions and biodiversity enhancement.”

Connon said that as well as existing legal safeguards that preserve Scotland’s very limited ‘prime’ agricultural land from wholesale tree planting, the union bel;ieved it was time for a more robust approach to screening planting applications on Scotland’s ‘productive’ agricultural land.

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“Meeting with the Cabinet Secretary and Minister, we were able to highlight a number of case studies from across Scotland that illustrated the loss of very productive agricultural land to forestry planting.”

He said that it had also been made plain to the politicians and civil servants that planting incentives and unregulated carbon markets were eroding Scotland’s food security - and adding to the risk of offshoring emissions by increasing the country’s reliance on imported products.

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“While the aggregate data on tree planting on land types over recent years shows how well Scotland is doing in reaching the Scottish Government’s planting targets, they disguise whether woodland has been integrated within thriving farming enterprises or whether once-productive land has been lost to trees.

He said it was imperative that the erosion of agricultural activity and the families which it sustained was halted as it would lead to irreversible socio-economic downturn in many rural areas.

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Arguing that continuous agricultural land management was the best way to support communities, jobs and incomes across rural Scotland, he added:

“Every agricultural business, regardless of tenure, should be in a position to consider viable and practical woodland creation options as part of mainstream agricultural and land use policy,” but pointed out:

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“However, that is completely different from wholescale farm plantings that take out not only good agricultural land but also the people who are the life and soul of the community.”

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