Following the reduction in the Forestry Grant Scheme budget announced in December, Scottish Environment LINK is very concerned about the potential for damaging Scotland’s ability to create and manage native woodland, one of our few means for addressing the twin climate and nature emergencies.
We are aware that the budget cuts create uncertainty across the forest industry and woodland conservation sector, especially for tree nurseries and forestry contractors. Just prior to the budget, at the Forestry Summit, a record number of woodland creation approvals were announced. If the cuts could be revised to ensure that all current approvals were funded, this would maintain the trajectory towards meeting the Government’s tree cover expansion targets, thus inspiring confidence throughout the sector.
Given the stakes for climate and nature, it will become increasingly important for taxpayer support to prioritise multi-benefit woodlands. As money becomes tighter, we are calling on the Scottish Government to strongly focus funds in the grant scheme on woodlands and forests that will deliver the most optimal mix of multiple benefits for nature, climate and people. These benefits include biodiversity, forest diversification to enable local timber-based businesses, community wellbeing and carbon sequestration, which are all sorely-needed in greater supply in our landscapes. These woodlands need grant support as they generate little if any income, although their environmental, social and cultural value benefit us all and are felt by all of us. We are increasingly seeing these values recognised through natural capital accounting.
We recognise that some helpful details of how the reduced scheme will operate have been published, although how the scheme will prioritise its resources is still to be clarified. Our hope is that the revised scheme will see an effective means of ensuring support for native woodland creation, including productive native hardwoods, native woodland management, and landscape-scale deer management to enable natural colonisation from native woodlands.