Published by: business.scotsman.com.
Date: Friday 11 May 2012.
The forestry sector in Scotland is already vibrant, with a huge amount of money ready to buy land with trees on it as investors increasingly look at some tangible asset. It also has a modern and efficient processing sector with a large throughput of timber currently meeting a strong demand.
But, according to one industry expert, forestry suffers when compared with agriculture as its lobbying power is less than the political pressure that the farming industry can impose.
As a result, the negative messages that get out about growing trees become common currency and hinder what could be a far larger industry in this country.
Raymond Henderson, of land and property agents Bidwells, was speaking in Perth yesterday when he highlighted a number of areas where a better understanding of the forestry sector could benefit Scotland.
One major area of conflict between growing trees and producing food has been the intent of the Scottish Government to increase the percentage of land under trees in this country.
Currently, 17 per cent of Scotland is given over to forestry and the Scottish Government initially said they wanted this to rise to 25 per cent by 2050; a target that would put Scotland more in line with many European countries where forestry plays an important role in integrated land use.
Then, realising they were not going to hit that target, the government reduced it to planting 100,000 hectares within the next decade.
Henderson opposed this reduced ambition, saying that one of the main concerns of the Scottish sawmilling industry was the long-term supply of timber. The explosion in commercial tree planting in the 1970s is currently feeding these mills but since then planting had dropped off dramatically and long-term wood supply was a concern.
Henderson said he did not believe that Scotland would even reach the reduced target. Problems with planning and with the main support scheme for forestry, the Scottish Rural Development Programme, both weighed heavily against any increase in tree planting.
He produced figures for the past three years that showed 5,100 hectares of trees planted in 2011, 2,700 ha in 2010 and 3,500 ha in 2009; a three-year total amounting only to what the reduced revised target is for one year.
Most of that acreage planted was grant-aided, he said but getting SRDP cash was very difficult, with bodies such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Scottish Natural Heritage having a major say in planning applications for woodland.
Henderson said farmers and farm leaders did not need to be concerned about the desire to increase tree plantings as there was ample good tree growing land which was currently not stocked.
He said that, in 2009, farming received more than £600 million in public support while forestry was only given £35m. With 19,000 workers employed directly or indirectly in forestry, taxpayers’ support per worker was less than £2,000 per head while the comparable figure per farm worker was £14,000.