Confor presses minister on planting targets

Scotland needs a fit-for-purpose process for forestry to meet its own planting targets, Confor has warned. 

At Confor's annual industry dinner, Forestry Minister Dr Aileen McLeod was urged to drive further improvements to delivery of the Forestry Grant Scheme - to speed up the process of approval for new woodland creation applications and to ensure the Scottish Government hits its official targets.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has promised to deliver 100,000 hectares of new woodland in the decade to 2022.

But Stuart Goodall, Chief Executive of Confor: Promoting forestry and wood, said: "We welcome the Scottish Government's planting ambitions, but if we are to deliver their targets, we need to get everything working better, whether it's new computer systems now or the process of approving new planting schemes in future.

"Initially, the target required 10,000 hectares of new planting a year. We have not been meeting this and Confor calculates that we now need around 13,000 hectares a year to hit the target by 2022. This needs to include 8-9,000 hectares annually of productive conifer species - softwoods which supply the timber needed by Scotland's wood processing businesses. They are investing around £50 million a year, but need the long-term supply of wood guaranteed."

A recent Forestry Commission Scotland report showed forestry and wood processing was worth £1 billion to Scotland's economy and had created thousands of new jobs through the economic downturn. Since then, panelboard producer Norbord has announced it is investing almost £100 million to modernise and expand its mill at Inverness. But Mr Goodall said this success was largely down to historic planting and that the momentum had to be maintained to ensure jobs and investment were secured for the coming decades.

"If we plant now, we secure the future of rural communities where forestry and timber is becoming a real bedrock employer, from tree nurseries through to hi-tech sawmills. Planting trees also soaks up carbon and helps to prevent flooding by 'slowing the flow' of water in upland areas - as well as providing great habitats for wildlife and for recreation."

Mr Goodall said planting targets were not being met because the process of approving applications took too long and was too complex, and this was being exacerbated in the short term by problems with a new computer system. "We welcome the fact that the Scottish Government and Forestry Commission Scotland have moved quickly to act on the current problems, but we need to go further and make it easier for those who want to create new woodland," he said.

Mr Goodall added: "We will also be discussing with Aileen McLeod the importance of the government continuing to provide funding for the Strategic Timber Transport Fund. This fund has been enormously helpful in taking timber off rural roads - by creating new forest roads to bypass local communities. Where that is not possible, it has supplemented local authority's roads budgets to improve minor roads to make them fit for purpose for today's needs. We have also been taking more timber by water transport and by rail - all part of the forestry industry's commitment to be a good neighbour."

Forestry Minister Dr Aileen McLeod said: "The Scottish Government recognises the enormous economic, environmental and social importance of the forestry and wood processing sector, which is a mainstay for rural communities across the country.

"We have a very constructive relationship with Confor and we will continue to work closely together to promote the industry and to respond to the opportunities and challenges that the sector faces in the years ahead.

"New planting remains a priority and I am pleased at the way Confor, NGOs, FCS and other public agencies are working together to identify ways to streamline the approval process whilst retaining the crucial process of public consultation."

At the dinner, the Confor Award for Dedicated Service to Forestry was presented to Colin Mann, who steps down this year after more than a decade as Managing Director of Scottish Woodlands, the company he joined as a Trainee Assistant Forest Manager straight from university in 1977.

Stuart Goodall said: "Colin has been an absolute stalwart of the forestry sector in Scotland for a very long time. He is an excellent forester, a talented businessman and also one of the nicest men you are ever likely to meet."