The devolution of Scottish Forestry: the 50 year vision

  • Insight

09 April 2019

On 1 April, the Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Act 2018 came into force, implementing the devolution of forestry to Scotland.

This coincides with the recent publication of the Scottish Government’s finalised version of Scotland’s Forestry Strategy 2019 – 2029. The consultation was the topic of discussion at our Forestry Strategy seminar with Fergus Ewing MSP and Stuart Goodall, CEO of Confor, in November last year.

Looking forward, what does the devolution of Scottish forestry mean in practice and how will Scotland’s new Forestry Strategy be implemented?

Devolution of forestry policy in Scotland

Firstly, two new Scottish Government forestry agencies have been established. Scottish Forestry have replaced Forestry Commission Scotland and are now responsible for policy, regulation, support and awarding grants. Alongside them, Forestry and Land Scotland will manage the Scottish Ministers’ land known as the National Forest Estate, which comprises of around one third of Scotland’s forests and woodlands.

These agencies are tasked with promoting sustainable forest management and implementing Scotland’s Forestry Strategy 2019-2029, which sees a substantial increase in tree planting rates.

The strategy highlights six main priorities:

1. Ensuring forests and woodlands are sustainably managed

2. Increasing the adaptability and resilience of forests and woodlands

3. Expanding the area of forests and woodlands, recognising wider land-use objectives

4. Enhancing the environmental benefits provided by forests and woodlands

5. Improving efficiency and productivity, and developing markets

6. Engaging more people, communities and businesses in the creation, management and use of forests and woodlands

The Strategy, and the planting of more trees, will have a key part to play in mitigating climate change, aiding biodiversity, improving environmental and landscape quality, as well as creating job opportunities and boosting the economic prospects for the sector.

How will the forestry strategy be delivered?

To achieve the aims of the Strategy a collaborative approach is key and its success will involve continued partnerships with a range of private, public and third sector partners, as well as collaboration with the UK Government, especially as the Brexit process continues.

With some forest planting schemes and policies having caused tension in the past, it will also be important to involve local landowners and encourage integrated land use. As we enjoy the Forestry Arena at this year’s Royal Highland Show, I’m sure it will be a hotly debated topic. It is hoped that the Scottish Government will be able to maintain this collaborative approach through integrated policy making across other areas.

New technology, research and innovation will play a part in helping to stimulate higher efficiency and productivity throughout the timber supply chain, providing more job opportunities within the industry, especially in rural areas. However, as highlighted by Fergus Ewing MSP at our breakfast seminar, the shortage of skilled people could be a threat to the success of the Strategy and this is something that the Strategy notes will need to be addressed.

Additionally, the financial incentives currently provided by the Scottish Government to plant new forests and woodlands will continue to play an important role, although it is yet to be seen how Brexit will affect funding in this area.

The future of Scottish forestry

Considering the productive lifespan of trees, a long-term approach is key. The overarching aim is that:

“In 2070 Scotland will have more forests and woodlands, sustainably managed and better integrated with other land uses. These will provide a more resilient, adaptable resource, with greater natural capital value, that supports a strong economy, a thriving environment, and healthy and flourishing communities”.

In the shorter term, over the next 10 years, the primary objectives laid down in the Strategy are: to increase forestry’s contribution to sustainable and inclusive economic growth; protect and enhance our valuable natural assets to contribute to a healthy and high quality environment; and use our forest and woodland resources to empower more people to improve their health, well-being and life chances.

It is worth noting that the new legislation requires that the Strategy is kept under review and the Scottish Government has undertaken to publish a more detailed implementation, monitoring and reporting framework before February next year.

For more information on this topic, contact