Whilst land reform has been capturing political headlines in Scotland in recent years, a determined band of men and women have been quietly working away to actually deliver it on the ground – or rather, in the woods.
A new model of woodland tenure which offers affordable access to woodland for woodsmen – woodlot licences – has been pioneered by the Scottish Woodlot Association. The model allows an individual to rent an area of woodland from a landowner on a long-term basis, to manage productively.
The Association’s success was highlighted earlier this month with the signing of their seventh woodlot licence agreement at Speddoch, near Dumfries.
The site on the Speddoch Estate comprises a number of small woodland parcels which have been combined into three separate woodlot licences giving three different families the chance to benefit. One of the new licence holders, Steffi Schaffler, is a horse logger who lives nearby and plans to manage her woodlot using her own horses. The 14 ha woodlot is ideal for them, as Steffi explains:
“It’s a great site for horses, not steep and not too wet. I am looking forward to thinning it, which is what horses are really good for.”
Steffi and her partner recently installed a log boiler in their home, so the poorer quality timber they cannot sell as sawlogs will find a ready home in their firewood stack.
Another of the licence holders, Mark Rowe, also lives nearby, though in his case actually on the estate – this local connection is typical of most woodlots. Mark runs a mobile sawmilling and general forestry business and will use the woodlot both to support his business and provide for his own personal woodfuel needs. Contributing to both lifestyles and livelihoods is again typical of the woodlot approach.
Under the terms of their licences Steffi and Mark will be responsible for managing their woodlots according to management plans agreed with Speddoch Estate owner, Rev Dr James Clark-Maxwell. This will include felling and extracting timber, which they will then be allowed to process and sell themselves. In return they pay an annual rental for the woodlots.
Scottish Woodlot Licences have been inspired by the situation in British Columbia (BC) where the Provincial Government has been running a highly successful woodlot licence programme on Crown land for over 30 years. There, they are seen as an important part of a diverse forestry sector, delivering particular local and community benefits, and as such are being actively promoted and expanded by the Government of BC. The SWA hope in time that woodlot licence tenure will also become an important ‘family forestry’ model in a more diverse Scottish forestry.