How a successful Scottish forestry sector is able to see the wood for the trees - Stuart Goodall

Forestry in Scotland is a modern success story. That’s not just my view but also that of forestry minister Mairi McAllan, who recently addressed a meeting of private and public organisations with an interest in driving forward Scotland’s Forestry Strategy.
Stuart Goodall is Chief Executive of forestry and wood trade body ConforStuart Goodall is Chief Executive of forestry and wood trade body Confor
Stuart Goodall is Chief Executive of forestry and wood trade body Confor

The sector continues to grow and innovate, and is well-placed to support a green economic recovery and to help Scotland achieve its climate change ambitions in the run-up to COP26 in Glasgow and beyond.

Unlike elsewhere in the UK, Scotland is meeting ambitious targets for tree planting, and has planted 80% of all the trees planted in the UK in each of the last three years.

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The UK government has a commitment to plant 30,000 hectares a year by 2025 but shied away from setting any target for England. I expect it will struggle to make a significant contribution to meeting that target because it takes a narrow approach to tree planting, one that largely ignores the rural economic benefits of trees and timber, and the need to produce more wood here as global demand soars. Anyone working on a DIY project or seeking to buy a shed or decking will, I’m sure, be experiencing the same delays I am!

It’s tempting for Scots to indulge in a little schadenfreude when looking at poor planting figures over the border, but it’s in the interests of the sector in Scotland for England to get its act together.

Scotland alone can’t deliver the UK’s net zero targets, and if the UK Government continues to erode supplies of wood in England, that will put greater pressure on supplies of wood for Scottish sawmills.

Forestry straddles the border. BSW, one of Europe' s largest sawmillers with its head office in the Scottish Borders, has a mill at Dalbeattie in Dumfries & Galloway and a larger mill near Carlisle just 50 miles away.

EGGER makes high-quality chipboard for homes at both Auchinleck, Ayrshire and Hexham, Northumberland. The two sites employ close to 800 people between them.

And James Jones & Sons, which has one of Europe's most modern sawmills at Lockerbie, extended its operations into northern England this year by buying Taylormade Timber Products Ltd, which has a sawmill in County Durham and another in Annan, near Lockerbie.

It's also worth remembering the mighty Kielder Forest, planted from the 1920s onwards to create a strategic timber supply for the UK and covering almost 250 square miles, starts barely five miles over the border off the A68.

All this activity means timber, people and wood products constantly cross the border. There is a desire for wood products all across the UK - for construction, fencing, board products for our homes, and, of course, pallets - vital in moving food and medical supplies during the pandemic.

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So how can we ensure both sides of the border do their bit to help our industry thrive? There are a number of ways to do this, including the way that we move wood.

Communities can be concerned about the impact of lorries carrying timber on rural roads, and there are carbon benefits to taking timber off-road. That's why industry worked with the Scottish Government (and Scottish Forestry) to create a Strategic Timber Transport Fund, which has invested tens of millions into improving rural roads and putting more access roads into forests, as well as increasing timber movements by sea and by rail.

Confor is seeking to work with partners in Northumberland and Cumbria to create a similar fund, which would benefit not only northern England, but also the movement of timber over the border.

We are also working with the Borderlands Inclusive Growth Deal to examine how more trees can be planted and how a forestry innovation hub might deliver further improvements to our industry on both sides of the border.

Home-grown wood will be badly needed in the decades to come as global demand for timber soars and supply starts to tail off in England.

A successful forestry sector will help Scotland recover from the pandemic and set the course for a low-carbon future. While Scotland can do much of the heavy lifting, northern England must take on some of the load if net zero is to be met – on both sides of the border.

Stuart Goodall is Chief Executive of forestry and wood trade body Confor

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