The much anticipated review of Scotland’s forest planting processes, being undertaken by Jim Mackinnon CBE, was published this week.
The review was to explore how the current arrangements for planting could be improved. The review is part of a broader package of reforms to drive forward forestry’s contribution to the rural economy and to support delivery of climate change targets.
The Cabinet Secretary accepted all of the recommendations (set out below) in principle, and Forestry Commission Scotland is to set out a delivery plan for implementing the recommendations early in 2017.
Summary of Recommendations
The recommendations can be summarised as follows:-
- The design of the planting scheme should be separate from the grant application – Figure 3 is a summary diagram of the proposed approach.
- Accredited agents should be appointed to certify all woodland creation schemes which are below the threshold for EIA screening and the majority of schemes where it is determined that an EIA is not required
- FCS should set up a central team to deal with particularly sensitive/complex proposals and all projects where an EIA is required.
- With the exception of grant applications above a certain value, or where there are concerns over a potential overspend, grant applications up to £250,000 should be determined by conservancies on an ongoing basis.
- Conservancies should make EIA Screening determinations without the need for consultation.
- A more rigorous and focused approach is required on scoping, with the EIA focused solely on issues which raise potentially significant environmental effects.
- Informing and engaging communities should happen much earlier and should be proportionate to the scale and impact of a planting scheme.
- Pre-application discussions are vital and the issues/actions should be recorded by agents and subsequently agreed by attendees.
- FCS and consultees, where they are involved, must have the confidence to give clear and consistent advice on issues to be addressed.
- Revised protocols setting out the involvement and approach of SNH, SEPA and HES should be agreed and implemented within 3 months of the SG decision on this review.
- Requests for information must be clearly justified and there should be an understanding by FCS and consultees of the cost/time implications of additional studies.
- Performance targets should be introduced for EIA screening determinations and grant applications.
- Planting targets for conservancies should be considered.
- Focused and post related programmes of training and development should be introduced.
- Better publicity for the scheme – both online and in hard copy - should be introduced.
- Better management information should be available.
- Conservancies should hold stakeholder seminars.
- An annual report should be produced looking at performance and prospects.
- A pilot scheme with a willing local authority to identify areas for large scale planting schemes should be considered.
- SG should discuss with FE the current approach to restocking on the National Forest Estate.
The cumulative effect of these recommendations, if they are accepted, has the potential to revitalise the FGS process but it is improved relations based on the principles of empowerment, trust and proportionality that really hold the key.
In the short time over which this review was conducted it has not been possible to cover or uncover some of the nuances in the scheme both in terms of the way it is intended to operate and different practices between and within conservancies. The recommendations set a direction and are neither exclusive nor exhaustive. Instead, they set out a way forward
The Cabinet Secretary can accept these recommendations, accept them with modifications or reject them. Assuming they are accepted in whole or part, an action plan should be drawn up with clear timescales for implementation. Some actions such as the approach to screening or returning decisions on the award of grant to the conservancies can be introduced quickly. Others, such as introducing a system for the appointment of accredited agents, performance targets or better promotional material, could be introduced within 6 months. Improved training and development will be an ongoing process but there is no reason why a programme cannot be set out by end 2016, while an annual report in 2018 could review the impact of the recommendations and set out the prospects for forestry.
Forestry is a vitally important sector of the Scottish economy generating almost £1billion in GVA and creating 25,000 jobs, many of which are in rural areas where there are few alternative employment opportunities. There has been a strong welcome across the sector for the greater priority now attached to forestry. Embedding culture change through empowerment, trust and proportionality are vital for the sector to fulfil its environmental and economic potential. Arguably, even more important is for the industry to be valued in its own right and for forestry professionals to demonstrate that a presumption in favour of planting that meets the UKFS will secure the long-term supply of productive timber, sustain jobs in rural areas and help Scotland achieve its ambitious climate change targets.