Turcan Connell was pleased to jointly sponsor and contribute, along with Confor, to last month’s Scotsman Conferences’ Seminar held to coincide with the coming to an end of the consultation period for the Scottish Government consultation paper on the forestry sector.

Contributors included Fergus Ewing MSP, myself [Adam Gillingham], Stuart Goodall (Confor), Elizabeth Barron-Majerik (Inverness College UHI) and Jonathan Hughes (CEO, Scottish Wildlife Trust), with Muriel Gray in the Chair.

The National Forest Estate (NFE), currently covers 8.2% of Scotland’s land mass. Forestry makes an enormous contribution to rural Scotland’s economy and has an estimated value of £1 billion and supports 25,000 jobs.

Undoubtedly, Brexit and its impact on the industry is currently a clear known unknown.

In its 2016 Manifesto, the SNP reaffirmed its policy objective to take forward the further devolution of forestry management in Scotland and bring forward the Scottish Forestry Bill. It is intended that the Bill, following the consultation process, will be presented to Parliament by June 2017. Agreement and cooperation from the UK Government will be required.

Legislation relating to forestry management in the UK arose from the need, following the First World War, for a National Forestry Policy to ensure the maintenance of a strategic reserve of timber in the UK and the Forestry Act 1919 introduced a Forestry Commission. There has been subsequent primary legislation impacting on forestry in Great Britain. The powers and duties of the current Forestry Commission/Commissioners are, in the main, contained in a consolidating Act of 1967.

We currently are, perhaps, in the somewhat confusing and arguably out-of-date position whereby management of the NFE is funded by the Scottish Government (SG) but is managed by the Forestry Commissioners. This does not reflect the current post-devolution landscape or operating environment. Devolution of forestry in Wales has already taken place with responsibilities undertaken by the Forestry Commission having been transferred in 2013 to Natural Resources Wales.

Many are unsure as to the current duties of respectively Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) and Forest Enterprise Scotland (FES). The intention of the SG is that FCS will be incorporated as a dedicated forestry division within the Environment and Forestry Directorate. FCS already operates as part of the Directorate and the intention is to formalise this once and for all. All existing FCS and FES staff are due to continue as civil servants. FES will be replaced by a new body called Forestry and Land Scotland. The intention is that it will initially perform a similar role to FES.

The Paper suggests that the new Forestry and Land Scotland Agency will focus on the development and management of the NFE to deliver specific economic, environmental and social outcomes including maintaining the current guaranteed provision of timber to Scotland’s timber processing sector, contributing to climate change targets and environmental objectives and of transferring land to communities.

The Consultation Paper has been issued against the background of the Land Reform Act 2003 and the progressive implementation of the 2015 Community Empowerment Act and the 2016 Land Reform Act of 2016 together with the SG’s stated intention to see a further 500,000 acres transferred into community ownership by 2020.

Against this background, I cannot but expect land reformers will wish to have their say about the future management/ownership of the NFE and how, in particular, communities can become even more actively involved – with an eye on, for example, woodland management as found in Scandinavian countries.

Potentially in conflict with those ambitions is the SG’s stated intention to include in the new legislation similar duties to those of the Forestry Commissioners in terms of the 1967 Act and that to promote forestry and the economic necessity to ensure the establishment and maintenance of adequate reserves of growing trees. Indeed, Fergus Ewing confirmed the SG’s intention to meet tree planting targets of 10,000 hectares a year being a vital goal towards future success.

I will leave others to argue the merits of these potentially conflicting priorities and will read with interest the outcome of the Consultation Paper and thereafter progress of the Bill.