I am delighted to open this debate to mark the centenary of the Forestry Act 1919. In 1919, Scotland looked very different from today; the landscape itself was different. In 1920, the newly formed Forestry Commission calculated that there were just over 460,000 hectares of woodland in Scotland—only 5 per cent of Scotland’s land area.
Scotland’s forests had been a vital resource in the great war—David Lloyd George remarked that the war was more nearly lost through lack of timber than want of food—but those forests were perilously depleted. More than 200 square miles of woodland had been felled since 1914. That was the backdrop to the Forestry Act 1919, which created the Forestry Commission with the aims of replanting felled areas, creating new woodlands and promoting better timber production.
Scotland’s forests were called on again during the second world war. Robin Jenkins’s great Scottish novel, “The Cone Gatherers” brings to life the work to collect the seeds needed to restock Scotland’s forests at the end of that war. The war years also saw the creation of the Women’s Timber Corps—the lumberjills. In 2007, the then environment minister, Mike Russell, joined surviving members to unveil a statue in the Queen Elizabeth forest park to commemorate the 4,000 members of that corps.
Less well known, perhaps, is the contribution of foresters from across the Commonwealth. I was glad to be in contact, last year and this, with the High Commissioner to Belize to acknowledge the huge contribution made by the 900 men of the British Honduras Forestry Unit during the war. More than 6,000 also came from Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Many of them chose to stay and make their lives here, and some have descendants who I hope are proud of their roots and heritage and also, now, of being Scots.
In this year’s programme for government, we said that we would plant a woodland to commemorate those foresters from across the Commonwealth and also to mark the centenary of the 1919 act. There can be no more fitting legacy to mark that pivotal contribution from foresters from our fellow Commonwealth states than to plant trees.
I can announce today that, through a partnership with Glasgow City Council, there will be a new planting of trees in Pollok park in Glasgow. I am particularly pleased that that should be the location, given the prominent role played by Sir John Stirling Maxwell—who owned the Pollok estate before it was given to the people of Glasgow—in inspiring and running the Forestry Commission in its early years.
I can also announce that the planting will be expanded, following consultation and engagement with the local community and stakeholder organisations, to create a living memorial to mark 100 years of the Forestry Act 1919, which locals and visitors will be able to enjoy for, I hope, the next 100 years.
One hundred years on, we have ensured that Scotland’s forestry sector looks to the future. Last year, we passed the Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Act 2018 to ensure that forestry is accountable to, and the responsibility of, the Scottish ministers and this Parliament.
On 1 April this year, we created two agencies: Scottish Forestry, to advise on forestry policy, regulate the sector and support sustainable forest management; and Forestry and Land Scotland, to manage Scotland’s publicly owned national forests and land. Earlier this month I was glad to launch FLS’s corporate plan, which is ambitious about the potential of that invaluable natural resource for Scotland.
In February, with cross-party support, we published Scotland’s forestry strategy. It describes how, by 2070, Scotland will have yet more forests. They will be sustainably managed and better integrated with other land uses; they will provide a more resilient and adaptable resource, with greater natural capital value; and they will support a strong economy, a thriving environment, and healthy and flourishing communities.
We will report on progress in delivering the strategy and we will publish an implementation plan. I look forward to providing further details of that to Parliament next year.
The strategy makes clear how versatile Scotland’s forests are, that they provide a home to more than 1,000 species, and that they enrich the lives and improve the health of the millions of people who live, work and play in them.
The strategy also demonstrates the unique importance of Scotland’s forests in tackling the overarching challenge of climate change. Their contribution is unique because they are a powerful carbon sink, which we can expand. Our climate change plan includes ambitious targets to do that. In 2018-19, we smashed our annual target of 10,000 hectares by planting 11,210 hectares. That was 84 per cent of the woodland that was created in the United Kingdom in that year.
However, we must go further. The programme for government sets the new aim to create 12,000 hectares of woodland in 2019-20. That is ambitious, especially in light of the reduction of nursery stock, but we have made available extra resources of £5 million. We anticipate accelerating and increasing our targets beyond 2021.
The contribution that Scotland’s forests make to fighting climate change is unique in the opportunity that it represents. Scotland already has a thriving forestry sector, which supports 25,000 jobs and contributes no less than £1 billion a year to the economy. The industry’s leadership group, which I met on Tuesday, has published a strategy to double that contribution by 2030.
Expanding our forests and the contribution of our forestry sector is good for our national economy. It will help to support the population of our rural areas and to fight climate change by removing millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and locking up that carbon dioxide indefinitely in the millions of tonnes of timber harvested for long-term uses, such as construction.
One hundred years on from 1919, Scotland’s forests cover around 19 per cent of our land area, and our publicly owned national forests and land extend to 640,000 hectares. Forestry is of its nature a long-term business. It is right to look back on 100 years of achievement and to appreciate those who have contributed to those achievements. They provide us and our children with a woodland inheritance that is rich in opportunities for the next 100 years.
That the Parliament welcomes the opportunity to mark 100 years since the Forestry Act 1919; notes the progress made since 1919 in increasing Scotland’s forest cover from 5% to nearly 19%; appreciates the contribution made by the men and women who have worked in forestry in Scotland, including those from Commonwealth countries who were members of forestry units in Scotland during and after the Second World War; acknowledges the importance of forests and woodland to the rural economy, to the health and wellbeing of communities and especially to the environment; recognises that forests and woodland are among Scotland’s most important natural assets in helping to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045, and resolves to encourage everyone to get involved in planting more trees over the next 100 years.
It is 100 years since the
Forestry Act 1919 was passed and the Forestry Commission was born. The commission has overseen a largely unregulated private forestry industry’s transformation to the thriving sector that we know today.
A century ago, just 5 per cent of Scotland’s land was forested; today, forest and woodland cover 19 per cent of Scotland. In Dumfries and Galloway, which is my home region, 31 per cent of the land is covered with woods and forests. That makes Dumfries and Galloway the most forested part of Scotland. Those 211,000 hectares include the great spruce forests of Galloway and Eskdalemuir, the traditional estate forests, such as those of Buccleuch Estates, and small native and farm woodlands, which are important to the beautiful landscape of Dumfries and Galloway.
Those woods and forests also make a huge economic contribution to the region. The timber industry is among the most important employers locally; there are more than 3,000 jobs in it across all sectors, from planting to processing. Many of those jobs are in some of the most remote rural areas.
Indeed, across Scotland, the forestry sector is of huge economic importance. It contributes almost £1 billion gross value added to the Scottish economy every year and supports more than 25,000 jobs.
I pay tribute to all those who have worked in the sector—past and present—and contributed to its growth and success over the past 100 years. I also place on record Labour’s thanks to the trade unions that represent many of those workers—Unite the union, the GMB, the Public and Commercial Services Union, Prospect and the FDA—for the work that they do to secure the best terms and conditions for their workers.
Forestry is a high-risk industry. Every year, workers in it are injured at work; in some cases, they are—sadly—killed. Many more suffer from work-related illness.
We should recognise the important role that our unions have played—in some cases for more than a century—in driving up safety standards for workers in forestry as the industry has grown.
It is not just the forestry coverage of our land and its economic impact that have grown in that time; so, too, have our recognition and appreciation of the social benefits of forestry. Since the 1970s in particular, the Forestry Commission has encouraged more people to see forests and our land as destinations for leisure and exercise. That shift in focus has helped to unlock our land’s potential for contributing to improving health and wellbeing, and today—more than ever—we need to build on that legacy.
Our national parks have been important contributors to delivering the economic, social and environmental benefits of our land. Nineteen years ago, the Parliament passed the National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000, which paved the way for the Labour-led Scottish Executive to create the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs national park in 2002 and the Cairngorms national park in 2003.
A report by the Scottish Campaign for National Parks has identified seven possible new national parks in Scotland, including a Galloway national park centred around the outstanding Galloway forest park, which would allow us to build on the outstanding natural assets of the region.
National parks have helped to deliver a major economic boost to their areas, supporting local businesses, generating jobs for young people, providing affordable homes, promoting investment in sustainable rural development and growing the tourism sector. They have also delivered an environmental boost, restoring paths and peatlands, assisting with species recovery and, crucially, restoring and conserving native woodlands.
That work is so important because one of the downsides of the changes in forestry over the past 100 years has been the extent to which our native woodlands have been left to decline, either through neglect or, in some cases, by design. The economic value of native woodland fell as its use was replaced by that of imports, and only niche markets using native timber were left. Across Scotland, huge swathes of our countryside were planted with conifers, which became standard forestry policy in the drive to increase timber production, incentivised by huge tax breaks.
Today, we are slowly learning from those past mistakes. Native woods are better protected, they are no longer persecuted and there are landscape-scale restoration efforts, such as the great Trossachs forest national nature reserve at the heart of the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs national park.
As biodiversity continues to decline globally, far more needs to be done to appreciate that our native woodlands are some of the most biodiverse habitats. We must better safeguard and expand those habitats from the measly 2 per cent that they cover today.
Forestry has a crucial role to play in helping Scotland to tackle the climate and biodiversity crisis that we face, including through meeting our new emissions targets, with estimates suggesting that every new hectare of forest and woodland that is created removes an average of 7 tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere every year. That must be a key driver in Scottish forestry policy in the years ahead, including through the continued expansion of planting—crucially, in the right places and with a proper mix of species.
There has been impressive growth in the forestry sector since the Forestry Commission was established 100 years ago. As that growth continues, it is critical that it is managed well and that we properly balance the economic, social and environmental benefits of a sector that is so important to many communities across Scotland.
I move amendment S5M-19631.4, to insert at end:
“; celebrates the contribution of the forestry sector trade unions; recognises the potential that sustainable management of diverse forest and woodland has in meeting biodiversity targets post 2020; notes the importance of planting taking place in appropriate areas; recognises the contribution that national parks make to protecting forestry and widening the natural environment, and therefore believes that new national parks should be designated.”
I am delighted to open on behalf of the Conservatives, and I welcome the opportunity to speak about the centenary of the Forestry Act 1919. Before the 1919 act, there was no notable state policy on forests. It was recognised that the UK’s forests had been in decline since the middle ages, but world war one led to an increased demand for timber and, by the end of the conflict, forest cover had significantly declined.
Moreover, there was an acute awareness of the strategic risks of an overreliance on imported timber. It was noted at the time that only 5 per cent of Great Britain was wooded, compared with 25 per cent of Germany. That led to great concern regarding the state of British forests and woodland. The 1919 act was passed to alleviate those concerns and established the Forestry Commission. The act gave authority to the commission to acquire and plant land, to promote timber supply and forest industries, to undertake education and research, to make grants and to give advice to woodland owners.
The Forestry Commission went from strength to strength and, by the start of world war two, it was the largest landowner in Britain. During the war period, employment in the Forestry Commission expanded to 44,000 in 1941, up from 14,000 in 1939. Many of the new employees included the women’s timber corps, who were affectionately known as the lumberjills. Another group that must be acknowledged and thanked for its contribution to the British war effort is the British Honduran forestry unit. Those volunteers arrived in a harsh Scottish winter and swapped tropical forests for hard frosts, which must have been a huge shock to the system.
The end of the war saw the commission turn more of its attention to research, especially into how to increase production. By the 1960s, the Forestry Commission was carrying out 40 per cent of all tree planting in the UK and had greatly increased timber sales, which led to the creation of thousands of new jobs.
However, in an era in which there was an increase in the amount of available leisure time, the forests were beginning to be seen as a place of recuperation and relaxation. That led to the creation of the Countryside Act 1968, which granted a right to roam that allowed the public greater use of the forests for recreational purposes. That led to a trend of sustainable forestry, which has continued until today. Indeed, from 1997, all conifer, or productive woodland, has been planted under the UK forestry standard to incorporate an area of least 25 per cent that is managed primarily for biodiversity objectives and comprises native broadleaves and open areas.
Scotland’s forests and woodlands are important in promoting tourism through providing stunning natural beauty, and that importance in supporting the rural economy was estimated to be worth £183 million in 2015.
The recent creation of two new agencies to help to manage Scotland’s forests, Forestry and Land Scotland and Scottish Forestry, marked the fact that forestry had become fully devolved. Today, forest and woodlands cover 19 per cent of our land. However, although that is a significant improvement, it still falls well short of the European Union average of 38 per cent. Moreover, the Scottish Government should acknowledge that, from 2002 until 2018, it did not meet the target of planting 10,000 hectares, which will lead to a scarcity of trees in 30 years’ time. I welcome the fact that we have achieved our planting target this year and I also welcome the increased planting targets going forward.
The important environmental role of sustainably managed forest and woodland cannot be overstated in the battle against climate change. Growing trees absorb and store huge amounts of carbon. In addition, almost 50 per cent of the carbon benefit of a forest comes from the substitution of wood fuel and timber for fossil fuels.
Scotland is better for the Forestry Act 1919 and we encourage people to celebrate it by getting involved in planting more trees over the next 100 years. However, that must be done only where it is economically and environmentally sustainable to do so. We must not repeat the mistakes of the past and plant trees on deep peat, as we did so disastrously on the flow country a generation ago, nor plant our best arable land, which is needed to feed our population. However, I believe that there is still plenty land in Scotland that can usefully and profitably be used to grow trees, and that is what we should do.
I am delighted to speak in the debate, 100 years on from the Forestry Act 1919 and the beginning of a major effort to reforest the United Kingdom. The legislation led to the creation of the Forestry Commission and a major programme of planting and building a nationally owned forestry estate.
As others have said, at the time of the legislation, only 5 per cent of the UK was forested: 100 years later, 18 per cent of Scotland is forested. To put that clearly into context, grouse shooting estates alone make up 20 per cent of all land in Scotland. We are still a long way from the target of 40 per cent—the average across Europe—that the Scottish Green Party would like to see. That target formed part of an amendment that was not selected for the debate. With the climate emergency, meeting that target is more urgent that ever. It is unfortunate that, at current reforestation rates, it will be 150 years before we meet the target. However, it is important to be positive, and there is a lot to be positive about.
We need to learn from, and be inspired by, the vision and impetus that were shown 100 years ago and commit to a major reforestation programme. That will assist us in tackling the climate emergency and will create rural jobs and economic opportunity throughout Scotland.
Research for the Revive coalition shows that forestry can provide a job for every 42 hectares, compared with one job for every 183 hectares for agriculture and one job for every 330 hectares for grouse shooting. The benefits should be clear for everyone to see.
I am proud to say that I was born and brought up in a forest house. My father was a labourer for the Forestry Commission for 25 years; he even operated a Forestry Commission horse—there are not too many of those about now. I also went on to work for the Forestry Commission. The big attraction—as with much of the public sector—was the housing that the commission provided. It created a lot of communities, particularly across the Highlands. That was the case at the hydro and the canal, where I worked. One of my duties was as a tree feller—cutting down trees in a squad of over a dozen people. Those people have now been replaced by one machine. We know now that the challenge of the skills shortage means that we have difficulty recruiting people to use those very expensive machines.
We are calling for a Scottish green new deal to mobilise the unprecedented public investment behind reforestation and supporting the development of sustainable forestry and related businesses. As the cabinet secretary and others have mentioned, there is a lot of ancillary business running alongside forestry. We need to focus in particular on building the public forestry estate. There have been significant acquisitions and disposals over the years. It is important that we manage publicly owned forests for current and future generations.
We also need to alter the profile of who owns the estate. Much of the land is in the hands of a small number of privileged individuals and is dominated by blood sport interests, particularly in the uplands. That leads to limited rural employment opportunities, biodiversity loss, environmental degradation and serious erosion of the public enjoyment of our land and the many benefits that that brings. That is in stark contrast to the role that native forest restoration and creation could play in creating new employment opportunities and fighting climate breakdown.
The sum of £1 million has been mentioned. That money supports the rural population. I do not suppose that I am alone in wanting to see the products being used. Rather than importing cheap PVC window frames and door frames from the far east, it would be far better if we could harness and make greater use of our own timber. As I said, greater diversity of ownership is also important.
In the short time that I have left, I want to mention a student at the Scottish School of Forestry, at Balloch, on the outskirts of Inverness. Lawrence Carlile, a first-year student, said:
“In terms of the climate emergency that we now face, I believe that drastic carbon emissions cutting and sequestration through nature-based draw-down strategies like afforestation and peat land restoration is of the utmost importance, and by reforesting the landscape in an ecologically sensitive way we can also go some way to help mitigate the effects of climate change such as droughts and flooding.”
As we celebrate 100 years since the 1919 act, I suggest that we redouble our efforts and pay particular attention to Lawrence’s words.
This is a splendid opportunity to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Forestry Act 1919. At the outset, I want to make it clear that the Scottish Liberal Democrats whole-heartedly support the motion that is before us this afternoon.
We have already heard that 100 years ago, the forestry cover of the UK was estimated to have fallen to only about 5 per cent of the land surface. However, throughout our history, over thousands of years, people have most commonly created farmland at the expense of forestry. Any potential tension between farming and forestry is hardly a modern phenomenon. However, after the tragedy of the first world war, our forestry cover was estimated to be at an all-time low. The 1919 act that set up the Forestry Commission was principally designed to ensure that Britain maintained a strategic reserve of timber from a very low base. Even today, as the motion highlights, it is estimated that only about 19 per cent of Scotland’s land surface is given to timber. Even at that level of coverage, Scotland remains one of the most deforested countries in Europe. That level of woodland cover is well below the European average of almost double that—37 per cent. We have a long way to go.
The figures that were provided by the Scottish Parliament information centre show that the total area of the national forest estate and woodland has been in steady decline for some considerable time. There was a marked jump in forestation in 2010; however, the level has since declined. Page 10 of the SPICe document states:
“Planting rates averaged 8,000 hectares per annum between 2011-12 and 2014-15 ... In 2015-16 the rate fell to 4,600 hectares per annum ... The Scottish Government has a target of averaging 10,000 ha per year of new woodland creation from 2015 onwards, which is yet to be met.”
I very much welcome the Scottish Government’s target of the new planting of 10,000 hectares per annum; however, the problem has been in reaching it. I hope that the Scottish Government is successful in its forestry ambitions. It is absolutely right that our new planting is increased, not only because it is important to have a strong timber industry—which makes a major contribution to the economy—but, even more important, because a major increase in tree planting is essential for the country to meet its climate change objectives and tackle what is perhaps the most important issue of our time. So, I wish the Scottish Government well. I encourage it to meet its new tree planting targets, and I know that the cabinet secretary is sincere in aiming to do just that.
Turning to Labour’s amendment, we support the establishment of new national parks, learning from the Cairngorms and the Loch Lomond experiences. They were created at the time of the Liberal Democrat-Labour coalition almost 20 years ago, which I remember so well, with fond memory. One of the lessons of those experiences was that we must take a grass-roots, not a top-down, approach to establishing national parks. It is for communities themselves to decide whether they want the benefits of improvements in land management and conservation, and of tourism, that national parks provide. They should not be imposed on communities, as I think that the Labour amendment almost threatens. [
.] The Labour Party is telling the Government to establish new national parks. However, it should really be a bottom-up, not a top-down, approach. With that caveat, we will vote for Labour’s amendment this afternoon. We fully support the Government motion, too.
I thank Mike Rumbles for taking an intervention. Can he tell us where, either in my speech or in Labour’s amendment, we plan to impose any national parks? The park in Galloway that has been referred to is very much about a bottom-up approach. Is Mike Rumbles telling the people of Galloway that he opposes that? I think that he needs to say that now, particularly to the election candidates in the weeks ahead.
Excuse me, Mr Smyth, you should speak through the chair and you should not use the term “you”.
We were all getting on nicely—I thought that we all loved trees. Let us go back to the tone of the debate prior to this little altercation, which was unnecessary.
I will simply close off the issue of national parks by saying that it is slightly unusual to incorporate it into an amendment in the way that has been done. I do not oppose national parks; I just think that the approach is slightly odd. However, there we are; that is neither here nor there.
In 1919 debate on the second reading of the Forestry Bill, which took place on 5 August and went on until eight o’clock in the evening, the slightly different figure was given of only 4—not 5—per cent of the UK being covered by forestry. However, I do not think that we should argue about a per cent here or there. More fundamentally, that illustrated the problem that, in 1915-16, three quarters of the amount of timber that the UK required had to be imported. That was the scale of the problem, and that was at a point when Germany had many times more acres planted.
John Finnie might be interested to know that it was also identified in that debate that there were 5 million acres of sporting land that were thought to be suitable for planting, which would have been a better use of that land. Some debates are not new; those issues were part of the original second reading debate in the House of Commons in 1919.
Like others, I am very pleased to mark the centenary of the Forestry Act 1919. Forestry was one of my ministerial responsibilities before I demitted office some time ago. I very much enjoyed that part of my portfolio, because forests are important and forestry supports so many jobs, not only directly but downstream. We build timber-frame houses and we have sawmills, which make an important contribution to our economy and to tackling climate change.
The first forestry act was needed because of the war emergency. It was vital then that we had timber, and it was recognised that we needed to do something about it.
We know that, depending on implementation, forestry can help with or hinder the dangers that are related to climate change. Trees can absorb water and promote higher soil infiltration rates, which helps with issues such as flooding. They capture carbon out of the air and store it—they are huge and important carbon sinks.
Therefore, we celebrate our forests not simply for their physical expression of what we might otherwise express in poetry—they are visual poetry and a feast for the mind, as well as for the nose. When it comes to the environment, they are crucial to our future.
We have become more aware of the importance of woodlands. Although the Community Woodlands Association was not set up until 2003, it came from a decades-long appreciation of the importance of community woodlands. On the part of Mike Rumbles’s speech that related to national parks, I note that through the community asset transfer scheme that we passed in 2017, communities are taking more interest in forestry than they used to.
For many people who sit at screens each day and are parked in offices, time in a forest can contribute to good mental health. There is a quiet, stillness and placid environment in a forest that is a balm for the soul.
It is important to think about where we go now. We have to do a lot more planting of forests in Scotland, and I hope that we continue to do that.
In 1919, my father was 14 years old and at Fortrose academy, and my father’s cousin, James Stevenson, was part of Lloyd George’s Government, which introduced the bill.
The forestry industry has changed beyond all recognition since the 1919 act was passed a century ago, and it will continue to evolve in future generations to meet new challenges.
Galloway is home to the largest forest park in the United Kingdom. It was created in 1947 and extends to almost 300 square miles and 97,000 hectares. A decade ago, it had the honour of being designated the UK’s first dark sky park, which, as one of the best star-gazing spots in Europe, has brought thousands of tourists to the region each year.
Galloway forest and the people who live and work there were recently featured in the hugely popular TV series, “The Forest”. It is home to two of the world-famous seven stanes mountain bike trails. Kirroughtree and Glentrool have stunning scenery and routes for all ages and abilities. At Kirroughtree, which is a 10-minute cycle ride from my home, there is everything from family trails to single tracks for more experienced mountain bikers, as well as extensive walking routes. At Glentrool, people can try their hand at everything from fun routes to long road-based forest rides.
At other forestry sites in Dumfries and Galloway, we have more of the seven stanes mountain bike trails: Ae Forest, Mabie near Dumfries and Dalbeattie.
Fun in the forest does not stop at mountain biking. People can relax in the Kirroughtree visitor centre, head to the wild watch hide to watch red squirrels and birds—right now, everything is under the fantastic colours of the autumn tree canopy—or enjoy a walk around Bruntis Loch. There is also the fabulous red deer range and a wild goat park. The area is truly an international gem in terms of its natural environment and biodiversity.
I often wonder whether the foresters who were at the heart of creating the Galloway forest park just after the second world war could have imagined how it would look today.
Although there has been a boom of activity in the park in recent years, with many new projects that have boosted tourist numbers, the Galloway region as a whole has not received the employment benefits that it should have done. It is still the case that far too few jobs are being created, despite more facilities being available for visitors and local people. That is why we on the Conservative benches are pleased to support the Labour amendment, which in effect calls for the designation of new national parks, and there can be no better place to start than Galloway. National park status for Galloway would bring transformational change to the region and would support truly sustainable growth in terms of the economy and the environment.
The Galloway National Park Association has an active bottom-up campaign in Galloway with wide support, but despite the fact that it has evidenced that support and the huge benefits that national park status would bring to the region, the Government appears to keep raising the bar in what it is asking the association to do to formally start the process of considering the establishment of a park. I call on the cabinet secretary and his ministers to set out clearly the process that, if followed, would trigger the required consultations and feasibility studies that are outlined in the legislation for creating new national parks. Our forestry sector, environment and rural economy would undoubtedly benefit from that status. Given the right governance, it could be the catalyst for us to truly maximise the benefits that we can derive from the forest.
I hope that the debate reinforces the importance of the industry to many of our communities and of continuing to support those who work there. I call on the Scottish Government to look again at new ways in which it can help the Galloway forest park to grow and flourish. I regularly say that I am privileged to be the constituency MSP for Scotland’s most beautiful constituency, and that is in no small part down to the Galloway forest park. I applaud all those who are working to make it such a success.
I am pleased to speak in this debate on the centenary of the Forestry Act 1919.
No one can have any doubt that forests and woodland areas play a huge role in Scotland’s economic and social life. Crucially, they also form part of our natural and historical heritage, they are vital habitats for diverse ecosystems and, no doubt, they will be part of the solution in tackling climate change.
That is certainly the case for significant parts of the rural areas in my Stirling constituency. The Stirling area is home to the Queen Elizabeth forest park, which is a stunning area with an amazing range of wooded areas and visitor attractions. The park ranges from Strathyre in the north down to the east side of Loch Lomond and takes in the Loch Katrine and Aberfoyle areas, too. That gives plenty of scope for activities such as walking, wildlife watching and cycling, as well as logging, which is vital.
Forestry and Land Scotland promotes the three lochs drive, which is a 7-mile forest drive that gives visitors the opportunity to see the stunning Trossachs area for themselves. The Lodge forest visitor centre, which is located in Aberfoyle, is the first stop for visitors looking to explore the area. That is an example of the importance of our natural heritage to tourism and visitor numbers and to the overall economy.
Much of the area benefits from a strong presence of native woodland. The latest forestry figures that I could find detailing the impact and importance of native woodland show that such woodland covers 6 per cent of the land in the Stirling area, totalling more than 13,000 hectares, with a stunning 91 per cent of that coverage made up of species native to Scotland. However, it is worth mentioning that invasive plant species continue to play a destructive role in our wooded areas. Unfortunately, 2.5 per cent of Stirling’s native woodland shrub and field layers are taken up by invasive species, with the main threat being the rhododendron. The nature of those invasive species means that preventing them from spreading is a real problem. That is an on-going challenge for all organisations that are involved in preserving and maintaining our magnificent woodlands, and it is particularly important when it comes to protecting our ancient woodlands, which are delicately balanced. Preserving those areas is a must for future generations.
I will use my remaining time to raise an issue that I am passionate about: cycling routes. I believe that such routes are important for the future of rural areas that have forests, such as the rural Stirling area. I have seen for myself the impact that cycling routes can have on visitor numbers in rural areas. Stirling benefits hugely from the Sustrans network, and the Dukes weekender cycling event in Aberfoyle brings many hundreds of people to the area. It is a real boost to the local economy and a significant event in promoting a healthy and active lifestyle.
Still more could be done to increase the scope for clean, green, healthy and active visits to some of our forestry areas. The benefits of bringing people into those areas in a well-managed way to engage in such activities are wide ranging. The activities do not just benefit the economy and improve public health, but promote the spectacular natural heritage that many of us sometimes take for granted.
Of the Loch Katrine area, Sir Walter Scott wrote:
“So wondrous wild, the whole might seem
The scenery of a fairy dream.”
Throughout our history, such areas have dazzled visitors. Organisations such as Forestry and Land Scotland have been crucial in maintaining their natural beauty and sustainability. Let us not take them for granted, let us get out, enjoy them and share them with the rest of the world for the next 100 years at least.
It has been very interesting to learn how Scotland’s forestry has changed in the past century—not least in relation to my friend John Finnie’s father’s forestry horse, who I understand was called Jock.
The Forestry Act 1919 was introduced after world war one, and its impact in the following decade was quite incredible, with a total of 192,000 acres being planted by the Forestry Commission or privately via commission grants. That was about 7,700 hectares a year—not bad for a newly formed Forestry Commission in post-war circumstances. Unfortunately, that figure is greater than the Scottish Government’s average since its planting targets were introduced in 2010.
On this centenary, we should take inspiration from the history of our forests, so I welcome the cabinet secretary’s announcement today about commemorative planting. We now face a different challenge—that of climate emergency and ecological crisis. We should take motivation from the past, but we should make progress with the advantage of more robust science, technology and expertise. The cabinet secretary acknowledged that today.
Forestry is one of our natural allies against climate change. It offsets 23.6 per cent of our greenhouse gas emissions, and its sequestration potential must be carefully fostered, while being managed alongside other priorities such as flood prevention, drainage, biodiversity and, of course, the rural economy.
I was delighted that the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 saw Parliament agree to my amendment to include in the climate change plan policies and proposals on agroforestry. I strongly believe that agroforestry is a sustainable option for adaptation that will deliver wide-ranging benefits to farmers and be for the public good. It is better for animal welfare, for the condition of soils and water courses now and for future generations, for biodiversity corridors and networks, and for cost savings and income generation. Furthermore, work by Vivid Economics that was commissioned by WWF states that agroforestry could reduce required planting rates by about 2,000 to 3,000 hectares a year.
Community woodlands also deserve stronger Government support, given the benefits that they deliver across many portfolios, because people and woodlands flourish when we care for each other.
People come to woodland programmes to improve their physical health, and for mental wellbeing, recycling, education, work experience, conservation and for their love of woodlands.
In my South Scotland region, we are fortunate to have the Borders Forest Trust. It owns three areas of the southern uplands, which are thought of as the wild heart of southern Scotland. The trust is working with communities to achieve healthy, natural ecosystems that have not been seen in the south of Scotland for centuries on that landscape scale.
The Scottish Wildlife Trust describes ancient woodlands as
“vitally important, irreplaceable reservoirs from which wildlife can begin to spread back into newly restored habitat thereby helping Scotland’s ecosystems to recover from centuries of degradation.”
As other parts of the country do, the Scottish Borders struggles with protection, enhancement and expansion of ancient woodlands. Those special native woodlands provide the highest biodiversity value, but represent, I am sad to say, only 0.26 per cent of the total land area of the Borders, which is below the national average of less than 2 per cent. Can the cabinet secretary say today what targeted support can be offered to improve the ancient woodland coverage in the Borders and across Scotland?
More broadly, Scotland, as featured in our amendment, will not make its 2020 international biodiversity targets.
Can the cabinet secretary explain when impetus will be put behind the post-2020 biodiversity action fund, including the contribution that our forestry and woodlands can make, so that we can effectively work together?
Nature is the basis of our socioeconomic system: without ecological stability, there is no economic stability. Diverse forestry expansion should be thought of as a solution. We do not have another century to get that right. We need immediate, accelerated and evidenced-based action, in order to deliver a rich tapestry of native woodlands and wild places that are cared for by local communities and landowners, working with us all to take on climate change.
It is well known that, in Scotland, we love our trees. In fact, once upon a time, we loved them so much that we were planting them everywhere, even on deep peat. Plantations such as those on the Forsinard flows were given by the London Government to the rich and famous as tax breaks. Trees were being planted—but not in the right places.
However, we have learned our lesson. Many of those trees are being felled and the water courses blocked, so that the much-needed water can return to the bog. In his blog, “Land Matters”, Andy Wightman has told of Nigel Lawson’s speech that put an end to that tax gravy train. Nigel Lawson said:
“But the present system cannot be justified. It enables top rate taxpayers in particular to shelter other income from tax, by setting it against expenditure on forestry, while the proceeds from any eventual sale are almost tax free. The time has come to bring it to an end.”—[
Official Report, House of Commons,
15 March 1988; Vol 129, c 1006.]
The Forestry Commission—which, after its functions were devolved to the Scottish Government this year, is now Forestry and Land Scotland—was set up after the first world war. In 1919, the need to expand the depleted forest estate was apparent, and the Forestry Commission acquired large expanses of agricultural land on which to plant trees. Approximately 4,700km² of Scotland’s forests and woodland are publicly owned by the Scottish Government via Forestry and Land Scotland. That makes up the national forest estate. Forestry contributes almost £1 billion to the Scottish economy, and the industry employs more than 25,000 people.
In years gone by, planting has not hit targets, but last year it did: 22 million trees were planted in Scotland. That brought our woodland coverage to nearly 19 per cent, which is good compared to the rest of the UK. However, if we compare that with our European neighbours’ coverage, there is still a way to go.
The situation is a far cry from the early 1980s, when controversial forestry decisions, such as the Earl of Seafield felling part of the ancient Abernethy forest in 1984, were made with the agreement of the Forestry Commission.
Tree felling can be an emotional experience, but tree planting has not been without controversy. In its preface by David Jenkins, the 1986 document by the Natural Environment Research Council, “Trees and wildlife in the Scottish uplands”, says that
“The concern of foresters to integrate their management policy with the requirement of the rural community is obvious” and that
“The concern is about integrating the need for timber with maintaining the richness of the Scottish ... countryside, of which forests are very much a part.”
We are getting better at striking the balance between agricultural land and forestry, and farmers and landowners are planting more trees. If we are to keep hitting our planting targets, that needs to continue.
As was reported in the
New Scientist in 1994, there is always hope of finding trees that we did not know were there. It said:
“The ‘discovery’ of 27,000 hectares of native woodlands in the Highlands has increased the size of Scotland’s native forests by around 35 per cent.”
Who knows where those trees were hiding? However, that was good news.
As the motion rightly mentions, the success of our woodland and forests is down in no small part to the people who work in the sector. I would like to hear from anybody in my constituency who knows of any lumberjills who work in the sector.
When the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee took evidence on the Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill, it heard the strongly held view that the skills in the sector are so valuable that they absolutely cannot be lost. At the time, the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy, Fergus Ewing, told the committee:
“we value the expertise of the staff very highly.” —[
Official Report, Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee
, 13 September 2017; c 26.]
In this year, when we celebrate the act’s 100th anniversary, we should appreciate the people who work, and those who have worked and contributed to our wonderful forests and woodland all over Scotland. Today, we thank them.
Thank you, Presiding Officer.
“I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.”
Those are the beautiful opening words of Joyce Kilmer’s famous imaginatively named poem “Trees”. Joyce was actually a man, but that is a whole other story that is not for today’s debate.
Alfred Joyce Kilmer died in the first world war. There has been a lot of talk about the effect of war on trees. Mention has been made of the lumberjills and the great work that women did during the wars. Members have talked about the great importance of trees. In this debate to mark the 100th anniversary of the Forestry Act 1919, it is fitting that we are looking at the importance of our forestry estate and how we manage it.
I am proud to be a member of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, which has been heavily involved in considering much of the legislation to change the arrangements for forestry that has been introduced in the years since I entered Parliament. It was a privilege to work on the Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill. That was a fascinating journey, as well as a learning curve, for many of us.
The committee visit that sticks in my mind most is one to Mull, where we saw at first hand the work that is done in felling and management of trees. Of course, that visit provided an excellent opportunity for members to be photographed in hard hats and fluorescent jackets in front of a mountain of logs that had recently been felled. However, I was struck by the experience of meeting staff who work in the industry.
Our forestry industry provides impressive economic and employment opportunities. It contributes £285 million of gross value added to the Scottish economy every year, and it supports 30,000 jobs end to end. It strikes me that we should think about that.
On the committee’s visit to Mull, I was told that it is a struggle to find drivers and operators of felling machinery. They are impressive pieces of kit, as anyone who has seen them in action will know. I recommend that anyone who has not done so look online at videos of the process in action, which show how speedy, efficient and impressive the felling machines are.
Technology is at the heart of managing today’s forestry. Forklift truck drivers are being taken from factories in cities and being trained to operate the machines. The idea of leaving an inner-city factory with no windows, where the job involves moving pallets, and instead going into the great countryside to perform the vital function of managing our forestry really struck a chord with me. Are we doing enough as a Parliament to promote careers in forestry as viable options? Are we doing enough to give people the skills that they need to manage those multimillion-pound machines?
It is all very well to talk about planting, who owns what, who has planted what and what the targets are, but I would like to put a positive spin on the case that we should be promoting management of forestry and the opportunities in tourism and hospitality that forestry affords. Are we going into schools and colleges to talk about that? Are we doing enough as advocates of forestry, not just as a thing to admire in the recess, but as a provider of genuine employment opportunities?
We know all about the environmental positives of managing trees, and about the vital role that they play in flood prevention, sheltering wildlife and capturing carbon. We talk a lot about climate change, but we need to ask whether we are looking at our forestry through the right eyes. There is a lot to be positive about, but we cannot be complacent. As a Parliament, we will need to monitor closely the recent legislative changes to how we manage forestry and land in the coming years.
I will close by quoting Kilmer’s words again:
“Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.”
Today’s debate has been an opportunity not just to celebrate the contribution of forestry over the past 100 years but to look ahead at how we can build on the achievements of the past century. Scotland’s ambitious planting targets are set to continue to transform a sector that has expanded so much in that time. That growth has delivered social, economic and environmental benefits for our communities but, in building on those achievements, we need to learn some of the lessons of the past. For example, we need to avoid inappropriate mass-scale planting and we should not plant on land with important environmental value, such as biodiverse habitats or peatlands, which capture greenhouse gases. We should also safeguard against any potential harm to other land-based sectors, such as tenant farming.
Given that agricultural and wider rural support is set to change regardless of whether we are in or out of the EU, we need to design a system that better supports integration and cohesion between agriculture and forestry and which encourages mixed land use.
Although forestry will undoubtedly play a crucial role in helping Scotland to achieve net zero emissions, we should be clear that increased forestry planting alone is not a panacea or an alternative to meaningful action to reduce emissions. Where forestry is used as part of a carbon-offsetting scheme, it cannot be used simply to take the edge off harmful emissions or to justify inaction.
It is also important to ensure that a focus on growing does not result in the neglect of existing woodlands. Native semi-natural woodlands are incredibly valuable, providing some of Scotland’s most biodiverse habitats. However, due to decades of neglect, which my colleague Claudia Beamish highlighted in her speech, they still only make up less than 2 per cent of Scotland’s land area. As well as planting new forests, we must protect and restore Scotland’s ancient woodlands and the unique benefits that they provide and we must build on not only the economic and environmental value of our forests but the social benefits of our land as a destination for leisure and exercise.
One key way to do that, as has been highlighted in the debate, is to support the development of more national parks in Scotland, particularly in areas with forested land, such as Galloway forest park. National parks help to develop many of the benefits that forestry provides across the board, with clear advantages for communities, local economies and our environment. Scotland has some of the most beautiful scenery and natural landscapes in the world, yet we have just two national parks—what a missed opportunity. The internationally recognised national park designation attracts tourists, creating jobs and growth in rural areas. It also helps to ensure that the forests in the park are well maintained, preserving and enhancing Scotland’s natural capital and biodiversity. That is just one of the reasons why we should be expanding the number of those parks, which is what our communities are calling for.
In his contribution, Mike Rumbles did not seem to understand that the campaign for new national parks in Scotland is a bottom-up campaign but we need—and he fails to grasp this—legislation from the Parliament to support those local campaigns and take them forward. The only top-down approach appears to be the one where Mr Rumbles is under the thumb of the cabinet secretary.
There are few sectors that can provide as wide a range of benefits as forestry does for our communities. We have seen impressive growth in the forestry sector since the Forestry Commission was established 100 years ago but, as the sector continues to grow, we need to properly balance the economic, social and environmental benefits for the support and benefit of our local communities.
I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests.
The strain of world war one took its toll on our country. Hundreds of thousands of lives were lost and our country’s resources were exhausted. Timber, as we have heard, was vital for the war effort and we had no choice but to deplete our forests to an all-time low. Indeed, that continued in world war two. Many old beech trees that are still growing were earmarked for the construction of .303 rifles in world war two and still bear the War Office crow’s foot symbol from when they were requisitioned.
Over a hundred years after the first world war, work continues to encourage our forests across Scotland and the UK. Last year, the Scottish Conservatives were delighted to support the full devolution of forestry to Scotland. More powers mean more responsibility placed on the Scottish Government to maintain the national forest estate and to meet the tree planting targets. Let me be clear—I am very pleased that the Scottish Government has exceeded its planting target for 2018 but, sadly, I have to point out that one good year does not undo 10 years of missed targets.
Prior to 2018, the Scottish Government missed its planting targets for 10 years. That means that we have lost the opportunity to plant 30,000 hectares of forestry. The result is that in 2035, as we have heard from many of the industry experts, our timber production will fall way behind what is required. The impact of this decade of failure is there for all to see. Scotland has the biggest area of forestry in the UK, but we are nowhere near to having as much forestry as other European countries. That means that Scotland and the UK as a whole are reliant on importing timber. That must change, so I am pleased that the planting target is rising and I will continue to encourage the Government to make sure that it is met.
However, I also believe that, as part of achieving that target, it is wrong for the Government to consider selling off our forests and the national forest estate. As I have said before in the chamber, in the past 20 years, the Scottish Government has disposed of more land than it has acquired. That needs to stop. The forest estate is a national asset, and it should not be sold to fund rising costs. If that continues, there is a possibility that Scotland will have no forests in national ownership.
I would like to point out some of the important things that we have heard this afternoon. Colin Smyth made important points on national parks helping to improve the environment and encourage native woodlands but, as he also indicated, we also need commercial forestry. Peter Chapman reminded us that forestry has been declining since the middle ages, and that needs to be reversed. John Finnie talked about his experience of working with forestry horses. I did not know that he had done that—unless I have misunderstood. He also talked about how the land is owned, although I think that it is more important to talk about how it is used.
Mike Rumbles also pointed out that we are behind Europe, and I have explained why. Stewart Stevenson reminded us that, when he was a minister with responsibility for trees, he saw them as “visual poetry”. I will maybe just leave that one there. Finlay Carson mentioned the importance of national parks, and I commend him and his predecessor for all their work on that and on forestry in their area. Bruce Crawford mentioned that forests are our heritage and perhaps our saviour, but he also said that we need to control the invasive non-native species that sometimes creep into our forests. That is entirely right. Rhododendrons are stretching out and, in some cases, killing our forestry. Claudia Beamish also mentioned that she saw trees as a way of addressing climate change; she is so right. Gail Ross spoke eloquently about planting trees in inappropriate areas being so wrong; again, she is so right. Jamie Greene talked about the importance of forestry management and mountains of logs—of course I would approve of that.
The world may have moved on since the Forestry Act 1919, but the challenge to restore forests and woodlands across Scotland must go on. We need more forests to grow our sustainable timber industry, as a place for recreation and leisure, and, most crucial of all, to combat the threat of climate change.
Our need to grow the national forest estate has never been bigger, and the pressure on the Scottish Government to deliver that has never been greater. The Scottish Government has set itself ambitious targets and we need to meet them. In Scotland, we cannot afford to allow them to fail.
This debate was intended to provide an opportunity to members from all parties to pay tribute to those who had the foresight 100 years ago to establish the Forestry Commission, and to all of those who contributed to its success over the intervening century.
I am pleased that many members, starting with Mr Chapman and Mr Smyth, accepted and took that opportunity and paid tribute to those people’s enormous efforts. It is probably impossible for any of us to do full justice to their extraordinary endeavour, foresight and ambition. The inception of a forestry commission was seen as a radical thing by leading landowners, ironically, who were the proponents of what was, at that time, a radical act that was resisted in some quarters.
The work of the Forestry Commission has proceeded apace over the 100 years and a huge number of people have paid tribute to it. I did not know that Mr Finnie’s father played a part in it, which is fascinating. He said that his father “operated” a horse, which is not normally what one says one does on a horse. I will maybe just leave that one aside. He obviously has a close family connection to the Forestry Commission, as do I—my late uncle worked with the Forestry Commission after he came back from the second world war, during which he had been incarcerated in the Changi prisoner of war camp.
The work done by so many individuals has played an enormous part in the tapestry, history and culture of Scotland, and it is right and fitting that we have all paid tribute to those individuals today. However, the finger of time moves on, and we need to look forward rather than back.
I am grateful to those members who welcomed the fact that we have achieved our first forestry target, but I acknowledge that in the past we have fallen short; there is no point in ignoring facts that do not suit one’s particular agenda. I was determined that we would move forward and achieve the targets, and that is what happened, but I am by no means complacent. There are many challenges. As many members will know from their own activities, growing trees is not like going to a shop and purchasing confectionery. The nursery stock needs to be planted effectively, but contractors are in short supply and the process is very weather dependent—the wrong weather can make skilled work impossible. The availability of nursery stock will be a particular challenge in the coming year, although not in the succeeding year. All those things have to be taken into account, and there is the omnipresent threat of tree disease, against which we must be constantly vigilant.
I pay tribute in particular to all the people who work for Scottish Forestry and Forestry and Land Scotland. Together, they are tackling a cornucopia of challenges and have succeeded nonetheless in enabling us to achieve our target.
To answer the point from John Finnie and other members that we need to raise the level of our ambitions, I entirely agree: I would like us to increase our ambitions further. John Finnie and his colleagues can be absolutely assured that, as long as I am around—I am sure that they hope that that will be for an extraordinarily long time—I will do exactly what they want in terms of aiming to increase those targets further. I look forward to working harmoniously, as always, with my colleagues in the Green Party.
In that context, I am pleased that we have increased the target this year from 10,000 to 12,000 hectares. I have also managed to persuade my good colleague and friend Derek Mackay that an additional £5 million will be found for that—
I was extremely grateful. He must be a great friend of mine, because he previously provided an additional £5 million for the timber transport fund. That fund was necessary to improve not only roads but water connections—there was some rail work too—in order to enhance our ability to extract timber.
So much of our timber is landlocked—it is entrapped—because there is no adequate transport system to extract it. It then becomes liable to wind blow and it is very difficult or impossible to extract, so it becomes valueless. The timeous extraction of wood is another relevant factor.
I am acutely aware that, at present, the commercial sector, and the sawmill sector in particular, is facing extraordinary financial pressure. There has been a downturn in the construction sector in the UK, which has fed into the timber sawmill sector—[
I engage regularly with the sawmill sector—I met the industry leadership group this week. I say to members that they should take some time to visit and communicate with the businesses in their constituencies in order to better understand what I see as an emerging challenge.
I am not going to say that all the problems are directly related to Brexit, but some deferment of investment has certainly played a part. In addition, the importation of 10 million to 12 million tonnes of diseased wood from Germany has been a factor. However, I underscore to all members that there is currently a very serious risk to the sawmill sector, on which we rely as the market for our productive species.
How am I doing for time, Presiding Officer? I have used up so much of my time in praising my friends in the Green Party that I have very little time left to devote to other issues. There are so many other issues, but how can they be more important? I do not know. I see that Patrick Harvie is joining in the general merriment of the occasion, is he not? There we are. Who writes this stuff anyway?
Let me be serious. The debate has provided us with an excellent opportunity—which we have taken—to pay tribute to those who serve in Scottish Forestry and FLS in our five conservancies and in forestry and land management offices around Scotland. They work on the land and in the fresh air. They plant, grow and fell the trees. They do the work that we talk about—they do it; we talk about it. Now and for the century to come—or certainly for as long as I am around—Scotland’s forestry, which is an essential driver of the economy and means of tackling climate change, will receive the attention that it deserves.