We must rebuild trust - to avoid boom and bust

31 May 2024

The forestry industry in Scotland wants to avoid a possible 'boom and bust' after the Scottish Government slashed the woodland creation budget for 2024/5.

Writing in the Press & Journal, Confor's CEO Stuart Goodall looks ahead to the next tree planting statistics (due out in late June), which could be the highest for a generation, potentially exceeding the 11,210 hectares planted in Scotland in 2018/19. 

Mr Goodall writes: "On the surface, this is very positive news for Scotland’s rural economy and environment. However, there is a deeper and more complex story behind the numbers, which could be  damaging for rural businesses." 

He goes on to explain why he is so concerned about the future of tree planting - following the Scottish Government's decision to slash funding for woodland creation by more than 40% for the financial year 2024/25. 

Mr Goodall says: "The ending of the Bute House Agreement [between the SNP and Greens] followed an admission by the Scottish Government that it could not meet its interim targets towards net zero. This failure is clear in woodland creation; the net zero-driven target of planting 18,000 hectares per year won’t be met this year, even with a possible record performance. 

"John Swinney has reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to net zero by 2045, but achieving that means taking action now. We cannot leave everything to the last minute, particularly when it comes to tree planting. Even with fast-growing conifer trees, the sooner we plant, the more carbon our forests will absorb by 2045." 

The reduced funding will only support 9-10,000 hectares of annual planting, and Mr Goodall says: "After the potential ‘boom’ of 2023/24 we face 'bust', not just in 2024/25, but in subsequent years. 

"Based on specific exhortations from the Scottish Government to deliver increased planting, tree nurseries, tree planters and forest managers have invested heavily. For these businesses, often long-standing family-run enterprises, confidence and certainty in future markets is everything, and confidence comes from trust, namely trust in the Government. That has been severely damaged. 

"In the coming months, nurseries will plan production for the coming years. Without confidence and trust, they will plan for reduced production and the future course will be set. These next few years, when tree planting could deliver most for net zero, will instead be missed opportunities." 

However, Mr Goodall believes it's not too late to address the problem: "The Scottish Government has the power to fix this. The forestry industry does not want boom, then bust - it wants to rebuild trust. That means the Scottish Government needs to invest in the sector, for Scotland’s economy, for the environment and for our children’s future."