15 Jun 2023

Forestry summit to be held on woodland creation

Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon will chair a Scottish Forestry Summit with industry leaders and land management bodies to get planting levels back on track.

The move comes on the back of a package of new forestry measures announced earlier this week designed to improve skills and speed up the woodland creation application process, whilst encouraging more landowners to get trees in the ground.

New figures released today show that last year, Scotland had created 8,190 hectares (ha) of new woodland out Scotland’s national target of 15,000 ha. England planted 3,130 ha, Wales 1,190 ha and Northern Ireland 450 ha.

Scottish Forestry had approved 11,000 ha worth of applications, however 25% of these projects were either delayed or not taken forward by the landowners.

The main reasons for this “slippage”, which is higher than in previous years, is thought to be around skills and capacity in the sector.  

There continues to be very strong demand for woodland creation in Scotland, with over 17,000 hectares already approved for planting over the next three years.

A further 29,000 hectares of Forestry Grant Scheme applications and projects at planning stage are currently being worked on by applicants and Scottish Forestry. 

Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon said:

“Scotland has the most ambitious woodland creation targets in the UK and despite the challenges of Brexit, Covid and vicious winter storms, landowners have created around 51,000 hectares of new woodland in the past five years – around 102 million trees.

“This is a tremendous achievement and I know so many organisations and Scottish Forestry have worked flat out to make this happen.

“It is clear that although Scotland is performing way better than the rest of the UK, our planting rates are not meeting our ambitious targets. Action is needed and both the private and public sector must collectively step up and improve its output.

“We need to dramatically increase the level of woodland creation approvals and improve on the quality of applications being submitted as quite frankly the current status is not acceptable.

“We also need to work with the sector to try to increase capacity and reduce the proportion of woodland creation projects that are being delayed after approval, as this is key to increasing confidence about future planting levels. We need to get back on track and tackle the unwelcome dip and kick start a revival to move our planting figures in the right direction.

“The new measures I announced earlier this week signals a determined commitment and investment from the Scottish Government to turn this around, but government cannot do this alone.

“Scottish Forestry has increased its staffing by 20% and will now invest £1 million to give these new forestry professionals more training to help speed up the woodland creation process. I’m also pleased to see Forestry and Land Scotland continuing to provide many valuable apprenticeships to create more opportunities for our young people to join the industry. We also need the private sector to play its part in providing similar employment and skills training opportunities.

“Creating more woodlands is a national joint effort involving landowners, charities, communities and forestry managers. I want our summit to bring everyone together to agree additional actions we can all take to take our commitments on woodland creation to the next level, ensure that forestry makes its crucial contribution to tackling climate change, and provide valuable jobs and business opportunities in rural Scotland too.”

Throughout the whole of the UK, Scotland is outstripping other countries and creating over 60% of all new woodland.

Woodland creation targets are set in the Scottish Government’s Climate Change Plan and are rising year on year, jumping to 18,000 ha a year by 2024/5.

Within the Bute House Agreement, a target to create a minimum of 4,000 ha each year was agreed. Current figures show that 74% of the Scottish native woodland target was met, with 2,945 ha being created.

Notes to news Editors

1.  Ms Gougeon previously announced a raft of new measures this week which will revitalise new planting. As a result, Scottish Forestry will implement the following actions:

  • Invest £1 million into training Scottish Forestry staff over the next two years to speed up the woodland creation application process;
    work closely with industry bodies and groups so that the training on developing and implementing woodland creation projects is expanded; 
  • Scottish Forestry will review and create more specialised teams to help deal with the more complex stages of the Forestry Grant Scheme that can delay woodland creation projects; 
  • Increase grant rates and eligibility for riparian planting across Scotland; 
  • Increasing the level of support for smaller scale woodland projects, to help counter recent inflationary pressures; 
  • Improve advice and information to farmers to help encourage them to integrate woodlands on their farms; 
  • Publish refreshed guidance on improving community engagement within the woodland creation application process; 
  • Carry out technical improvements and process enhancements and provide better management information for both Scottish Forestry staff and applicants to help speed up applications; and 
  • Scottish Forestry will also undertake a reprioritisation of its existing resources and areas of delivery to ensure that woodland creation is its key focus in all operations.
  • A key element in stimulating tree planting levels in the Forestry Grant Scheme. A public consultation exercise on the future forestry grant support has recently been completed on 17th May, with the results now being analysed. The Forestry Grant Scheme will be evolved into a package of grant support which will deliver better for Net Zero, the economy, environment and for communities.

2. Forestry and Land Scotland, which manages the national forests, is to increase its yearly planting levels from the current 500 hectares a year to 900 hectares by 2027/8.

3. The Scottish Forestry Summit will take place later in the summer.

4. Annual woodland creation targets were set out in the Scottish Government’s Climate Change Plan. Since 2021/1 they have risen yearly in steps from 12,000 hectares a year to 13,500 in 21/22, to 15,000 for 22/23. For 23/24 it will rise to 16,500ha and in 24/5 reach a target of 18,000 ha every year.

5. Previous new woodland planting figures are:

2017/18  - 7, 140 ha

2018/19  - 11, 210 ha

2019/20  - 11,050 ha

2020/21  - 10,660 ha

2021/22  - 10,480 ha

2022/23  - 8,190 ha

6. Annual new woodland creation statistics are managed by the Forest Research Agency. The planting figures are based between annual returns from April 1st to March 31st. For a woodland creation schemes hectares to count towards the targets, the trees must be planted and the grant claims submitted to Scottish Forestry.

7. Scottish Forestry doesn’t own or manage any forests or woodlands and therefore does not plant any of the trees. It manages the applications for woodland creation projects from landowners and administers the forestry grants given to stimulate the new planting.

8. Over 95% of all new planting in Scotland is carried out by the private sector, charities and other rural landowners, with the rest being generated by Forestry and Land Scotland.

9. Attracting new talent into the forestry sector is vital for its future. Forestry and Land Scotland has had 19 apprentices over the last two years of which 16 went into employment within the agency. Seven further apprentices will start in August this year and 16 more will be recruited with a view to starting in January next year.  Scottish Forestry has increased its staffing by 20% over the past couple of years, with 21 staff being at Assistant Woodland Officer level, to meet the extra demand for woodland creation in Scotland and is providing a comprehensive training development programme.