Stuart Goodall: Fishing is important – but the forestry sector is twice the size

Stuart Goodall is Chief Executive of Confor: promoting forestry and wood
Stuart Goodall is Chief Executive of Confor: promoting forestry and wood
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IT’S been another busy month for forestry in Scotland. The Scottish Parliament passed its first forestry legislation since ­devolution in 1999, the day before UN International Day of Forests – and the wild weather from the east saw huge quantities of timber, lost by a ­transport vessel in the North Sea, wash up on the shores of East Lothian and Fife.

Unfortunately, the North Sea’s ­‘timber treasure’ is ­unusable due to prolonged contact with salt water. Fish, on the other hand, are keen to maintain such prolonged contact, and there has been a high-profile public stooshie regarding the fishing sector’s disappointment that it will not be gaining full control of our fish when we leave the EU in a year’s time.

Fish used to be wrapped up in ­yesterday’s news, but as a sector it can still command column inches – whereas the forestry news largely passed the media by.

Forestry is a £1 billion a year industry in Scotland, employing more than 25,000 people. In terms of ­value to our economy, that’s more than twice the size of fishing. Fishing is a very important sector to Scotland – but so is forestry. Perhaps the scale of the industry isn’t fully appreciated because many foresters still tend to hide their light under a bushel - or more likely, a spruce or an oak tree.

It’s important to look at Scotland’s new forestry legislation in the ­context of its time – and in 2018, ­forestry and wood processing is growing in importance in Scotland. This growth, however, fuels pressures which must be resolved if the sector is going to continue to flourish in future.

Prices paid for timber have gone through the (wooden) roof, reaching modern-day highs. Scottish wood processors – including Norbord in Inverness, James Jones at Lockerbie, BSW at Fort William and ­Glennon Brothers in East Lothian – have made major investments to reflect the growing demand for ­timber for a range of products, including timber frames for housing.

Wood products are around us all the time – flooring, fencing, decking, kitchen and bathroom units, furniture and much more – but we don’t often think about where the wood comes from. Google Animating ­Forestry and watch a very short video which explains it beautifully.

There is also likely to be a far greater use of wood in energy generation than official statistics suggest. Demand for wood is incredibly strong and there’s never been a ­better time for someone with a woodland to think about its value.

It was in this context that Confor had concerns about some of the amendments to the new forestry legislation brought forward by MSPs. The Scottish Government warned that some of the administrative changes proposed could have inadvertently led to the loss of more than £30 million each year to the forestry sector and potentially reduced the amount of timber available – at a time when demand is soaring.

The forestry sector had to stand up for its interests and warn MSPs of the damage a proposed new single ­forestry agency would have done. We were pleased when this was avoided and the legislation was passed to deliver a fully-devolved structure to support our £1 billion industry.

Forestry matters to Scotland’s ­economy environment and communities – and it must be at the heart of future discussions on rural policy and funding and how we meet ­climate change targets.

Confor is pleased that our proposal for a new Chief Forester was accepted as part of the new legislation – the first major forestry law changes in 50 years. The sector needs all the champions it can get in the corridors of power, at Holyrood, Westminster and Brussels, at this important time.

We hope MSPs’ heightened interest in forestry will continue and the warm words this week will translate into real action in the years ahead.

In the past, Confor has had to lobby hard to raise awareness of continuing failure on tree planting targets, and we need the new administrative arrangements to signal a new future.

There are real opportunities for Scotland if we can make the new arrangements function ­effectively. Perhaps the new agencies could be formed on next year’s International Day of Forests – amidst some more than modest media coverage.

Stuart Goodall is chief executive of Confor: promoting forestry and wood.