Changes to forestry governance in Scotland should not dilute expertise within the sector, Scottish Land & Estates has said.
The organisation, which represents landowners and rural businesses across Scotland, has submitted its response to the Scottish Government’s consultation on the future of forestry in Scotland.
Scottish Land & Estates said that many of the proposed changes could harness benefits for the sector, improving processes that have become cumbersome - but that care needed to be given to any new structure that moved current Forestry Commission Scotland functions into a division of the Scottish Government.
Anne Gray, Senior Policy Officer (Land Use and Environment) at Scottish Land & Estates, said: “The proposed alterations to forestry governance in Scotland are extremely important for our members and for the government in meeting their own ambitious target of creating 10,000 hectares of new woodlands per year.
“Whilst we will see the full devolution of forestry governance to Scotland, we need to ensure that new structures guarantee practical and policy knowledge across the sector. By separating the physical assets of Scotland’s publicly owned forested land and farms from regulatory, policy-making, grant-managing and advice functions, which will become a division of government, there is a concern that practical experience might become diluted in the regulatory division.
“If the Scottish Government goes ahead as proposed, we would like to see particular consideration given to how future employees of the forestry division of Scottish Government are developed through the industry. Consideration also needs to be given to how those with expertise are retained.
“There have also been concerns that the the proposed new agency to run the national forest estate, Forestry and Land Scotland - which will also be used to deliver more than forestry - could result in a demotion in the importance of forestry to broader activities of this new body. We have had reassurance from government that the importance of forestry within new structures will be maintained but given the long-term nature of forestry, this needs to be certain for decades and not just the immediate future.”
Scottish Land & Estates added that the different roles of state and private sector in forestry provision had to be clearly acknowledged.
Ms Gray continued: “The consultation does not address the optimum extent of state owned forestry. New structures should, we believe, be given the flexibility to significantly alter the extent of state ownership if this is in the public interest.
“We should also ensure that state-owned forestry does not disadvantage private forestry activities, so there needs to be parity with the private sector in terms of support and regulatory burdens. This not only needs to be thought about in terms of the market for timber products but also in terms of diversification activity. For example, mountain-biking facilities provided free-of-charge on state forestry sites has severely stunted the development of a market for this activity within private forestry sites. This ultimately has not been beneficial to the mountain-biking community as it is only the Forestry Commission that can provide these facilities so they are limited, or to the public purse which is now obliged to underwrite the costs of running such facilities.
“We recognise that the shape of forestry is changing – and the outcome of the EU referendum earlier in the summer also represents change that is as yet unquantified. It is vital, however, that we do not hastily react to these changes and jeopardise an industry that supports 25,000 jobs and is worth almost £1billion to Scotland’s economy.”