Stuart Goodall: We need to grow more trees '“ how about a Chief Forester to make it happen?

It is rare for a draft Bill to secure cross-chamber ­support, but that's just what happened last month with the first stage of the ­Forestry and Land ­Management (Scotland) Bill.
Stuart Goodall is Chief Executive of Confor: promoting forestry and woodStuart Goodall is Chief Executive of Confor: promoting forestry and wood
Stuart Goodall is Chief Executive of Confor: promoting forestry and wood

The support is testament to efforts by all parties at Holyrood to deliver a positive future for the £1 billion ­forestry and wood processing sector in Scotland, the 25,000-plus jobs it provides and the rural communities it supports.

Credit is also due to Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity, Fergus Ewing MSP, who made it clear he wanted to work across the floor to take the Bill forward.

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However, the support came with caveats and the Bill will be amended before it becomes law. A principal area for improvement is the lack of a commitment to increasing the area of Scotland’s forests and woodlands and to guaranteeing future timber supply.

There are a variety of reasons for greater tree planting. As head of the sector’s trade body, representing more than 600 forestry and wood-using businesses across Scotland, I understand the need for confidence in future wood supply. I hear from my members every day that they need that certainty to continue the investment that supports so many jobs.

Strong wood supply in recent years, thanks to high levels of planting in the past, has led to significant investment by big players in the sector – sawmillers BSW at Fort William, James Jones at Lockerbie and in the North-East, and panel board manufacturer ­Norbord. The £95 million invested in Norbord’s plant at Dalcross, Inverness, represents one of the biggest inward investments in Scotland for many years and is both a massive vote of confidence in the local workforce and in Scottish forestry and wood processing.

The signs for the future are positive; new tree planting is nudging up towards the Scottish Government’s current annual target of 10,000 ­hectares and might get close to 12,000 hectares in 2018.

Future targets have been pushed upwards, to 15,000 hectares by 2025, with clear links to policy ­areas important to the Scottish Government – using more domestic timber in house-building and increasing ­forestry’s already significant contribution to Scotland’s ambitious ­climate change targets.

Against that backdrop, making a commitment to planting as part of an assessment of future wood supply needs and meeting Scotland’s carbon reduction targets seems like a ­natural next step – and during the period leading up to the final passing of the Forestry and Land Management Bill, Confor will be pressing hard for this to happen.

While the current Scottish ­Government is committed to driving up planting, with cross-party ­support, this is not a ‘bankable’ ­position and forestry is a long-term business. We need analysis of future wood supply to be part of every future forestry strategy – a feature of the draft Bill. This will provide ­assurance that the Government understands the need to look to the future when acting now.

We also need to accept in Scotland that we will not meet our greenhouse gas reduction targets through reducing emissions alone. We have to take carbon out of the atmosphere and tree planting is currently the only proven ‘technology’. It is also ­staggeringly cheap compared to the carbon capture and storage that ­usually ‘captures’ the headlines.

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A second important issue in the Bill is that of forestry expertise. It makes sense to ensure that forestry advisers are in the centre of government, especially at a time of change to rural policy and mounting pressure to tackle climate change. However, we do not want to lose the professional knowledge and skills of foresters in the civil service, as well as the motivating sense of being part of the ‘forestry team’ in government. It is crucial that the Bill recognises the need for continued expertise and one way of promoting this would be through the creation of a new role of Chief Forester.

This was a suggestion by Confor early in the legislative process and it is gratifying to see how many people and organisations support the idea.

As the Bill winds its way through Parliament, Confor will continue to feed in to the process. It is important that the voice of the industry is heard clearly when new legislation is being shaped and Confor has worked with MSPs of all parties to explain the issues that really matter to forestry and wood-processing businesses.

This is the first new forestry ­legislation in Scotland for 50 years and it is vital that it is fit for purpose.

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

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