Scottish Forestry Summit 'must be a springboard'

13 December 2023

The Scottish Forestry Summit must act as a springboard to deliver the clarity, commitment and consistency needed to achieve ambitious planting targets, Confor believes.

Mairi Gougeon, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, convened the summit of key people from 80 businesses and organisations across the sector, amid industry concerns around falling planting rates and policy drift away from supporting the industry in Scotland and tackling climate change.

Ahead of the event at Battleby, Perth, Confor was looking for the Cabinet Secretary to give clear political support to achieving the Government’s tree planting target of 18,000 hectares annually by 2025, with productive forestry playing the key role in that. Just 8,190 hectares were planted in 2022/23.

Confor Chief Executive Stuart Goodall said: "We were pleased Mairi Gougeon committed to meeting the targets, and pledged that productive forestry would be at the heart of future planting plans. That is vital if we are to secure future timber supply, which we need to support efforts to make construction greener and more sustainable by using more wood. 

This not only supports Scotland's climate ambitions [its net zero target is 2045, five years earlier than the rest of the UK] but it can also provide many more rural jobs.”

Mr Goodall, who attended the summit with Confor colleagues Andy Leitch (Deputy CEO), and April Armstrong (National Manager for Scotland), added: "We now need to work together to ensure the commitment to succeed made by all parties at the summit is the springboard needed to get planting back on track. 

“Ms Gougeon welcomed Confor’s work to develop and deliver training in stakeholder engagement, and we’re also working on best practice guidance. We need the application process to be more clearly and consistently administered, with fixed timelines that are adhered to, and the whole process would benefit from greater interaction between those working in the public and private sectors . At the summit there was also discussion of the need for better communication about the drivers for planting and the benefits it provides and I’m pleased to say that Confor will have more to say on that in the new year.”

Mr Goodall said the timing of the summit was excellent, after the positive announcement about wood use at COP28, where a coalition of 17 countries  - including the UK - committed to “advancing policies and approaches that support low carbon construction and increase the use of wood from sustainably managed forests in the built environment” by 2030.  Mr Goodall said: "This statement has to focus minds on why productive planting is so important to the future of our environment, as well as our rural economy."

Ahead of the summit, Confor liaised with members to pull together the key actions needed to help reach the target. "It was great to see strong representation from industry at the summit, and to hear real-life stories from those on the ground,” said Mr Goodall. “The next step is for Scottish Forestry to distil the points made and come up with prioritised actions; we hope that will be done quickly, including identifying potential quick wins."

Scottish Forestry has approved 13,111 ha worth of new woodland creation schemes so far this year. 

Mairi Gougeon said at the event: “The summit is hugely important to help galvanise support and effort to increase our woodland creation levels. I am here at the summit to both listen, but also to ask what more everyone else can do. I’m very encouraged at the number of application approvals hitting a record this century – that’s a tremendous achievement. However, although the approvals are very encouraging, we need to acknowledge that we still have a way to go in meeting the actual targets. More work by everyone on this is needed.”