Report attacks forest ownership

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SCOTLAND has the smallest amount of forest in public ownership of any country in Europe.

The vast majority of forestry in Scotland is in the possession of a small number of landed estates, with many of the owners living abroad.

A report, Forest Ownership in Scotland: A Scoping Study, calls for steps to be taken to change the pattern of ownership, claiming that it “may not be optimal for securing the full suite of potential public benefits”.

Author Andy Wightman, who wrote the report for the Forest Policy Group, concludes: “Most European countries present a very different history and pattern of forest ownership with widespread small-scale ownership, family ownership, resident ownership and municipal and co-operative ownership.

“Scotland, by contrast, has inherited a feudal, statist and elite monied state of affairs.”

Using sample areas of Scotland, he calculated that other than the third of the country’s forest owned by the government and managed by the Forestry Commission, 91 per cent is owned by landed estates or investment owners. More than half (55 per cent) is owned by absentees and a third (32 per cent) of theprivate owners live outside Scotland.

“Scotland’s forest resource is thus dominated by the state, landed estates and forestry investors,” he said. “The big contrast with other European countries is the insignificant proportion owned here by individual resident owners, farmers, co-operatives, and municipalities.”

Whereas 60 per cent of European forest holdings are less than a hectare, in Scotland this drops to 6 per cent. Instead, nine-tenths of Scotland’s privately owned forest area is held in holdings of more than 100 hectares.

Wightman also hit out at the Scottish Government and Forestry Commission Scotland for gathering and publishing minimal information about patterns of ownership.

Wightman, who studied forestry at the University of Aberdeen, is author of Who Owns Scotland?