Scotland needs more trees: Confor launches Manifesto for Holyrood election

The Scottish Government must plant more trees to secure the future of Scotland's £1 billion forestry and timber industry, according to the sector's leading trade body.

In a five-point forestry action plan ahead of the Holyrood elections, Confor issues a rallying cry for new planting - and warns the target of 100,000 hectares of new woodland in Scotland in the decade to 2022 is is serious danger of being missed.

Confor's manifesto Forestry and Timber: Growing a Resilient Scotland calculates that the original target of 10,000 hectares (ha) of annual planting over a decade now needs to be increased to 13,000ha annually to reach 100,000ha by 2022.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon pledged to hit the target in a major speech in late 2015, saying: "We are committed to increase planting rates even further so that we plant 100,000 hectares of trees in the decade to 2022. That would be equivalent to 200 million new trees."

Stuart Goodall, Chief Executive of Confor, welcomed the commitment and said: "Planting underpins everything - if we can hit these targets, very substantial economic, environmental and social benefits will flow from that. If we don't, we are in danger of falling into the 'timber gap' - a long-term drop-off in supply which could damage confidence, reduce investment and jeopardise jobs and businesses."

A report in late 2015 showed that the forestry and timber sector in Scotland is now worth £1 billion and supports well over 25,000 direct jobs with employee numbers rising dramatically during the economic downturn - a period of strong timber supplies due to historic planting.

The manifesto lists the significant opportunities of meeting planting targets and following through on the action plan: 

* JOBS AND GROWTH: Confidence in future supplies will protect jobs and investment like the £95m invested by Norbord this year in its Highland site

* CLIMATE CHANGE: Planting trees soaks up carbon and wood products lock up carbon, making a major contribution to the Scottish Government's world-leading climate change targets

* REDUCING FLOOD RISKS: A growing body of research shows tree planting in the uplands can reduce downstream floods by up to 20 per cent. Confor produced a 2016 discussion paper on the subject.

* BETTER LAND USE: Integrating new woodland with sheep farming makes better economic and environmental sense for Scotland's uplands, shown in a detailed independent report on the Eskdalemuir area in southern Scotland.

The five steps to deliver the range of opportunities listed in the Confor manifesto are:

PLANT MORE PRODUCTIVE WOODLANDS: The Scottish Government should plant 13,000ha of new woodland annually to 2022 to meet its target, with at least 8-9,000 ha of productive woodland to provide timber for businesses in the future.

IMPROVE THE FORESTRY APPLICATIONS SYSTEM: Confor wants further improvements to the Forestry Grant Scheme to speed up the approval process and remove unnecessary complexity - to make applications simpler and drive up planting.

STIMULATE MARKETS FOR TIMBER AND WOOD: Wood is by far the best and most sustainable building material for the environment. Confor wants a 'Wood Equal' policy so it is given detailed consideration in all public building projects.

RESTOCK PUBLIC FORESTS: The Scottish Government manages 478,000ha of forest (an area slightly bigger than the entire Scottish Borders region - 432,000 ha) but budget pressures are limiting restocking and investment is needed to ensure this happens during the next parliamentary term.

CONTINUE TO SUPPORT TIMBER TRANSPORT: Confor welcomes the recent commitment to future funding of almost £3m per year but it is vital that this continues to take more timber off minor roads by creating forest roads and moving it by water - and planning when there is no alternative to public roads.

Stuart Goodall concluded: "These action points are all very much achievable and do not require large sums of money - and if the Scottish Government follows through on them, the economic, environmental and social rewards will be very substantial for our rural communities."

The manifesto will be handed to all delegates at Confor's Scottish conference on March 22nd, Forestry and Timber: Scotland's Hidden Success Story and distributed to all political parties to share with their Holyrood election candidates.