Forestry Commission Scotland hosted a constructive meeting with representatives of the farming and meat sectors last Friday (2/11/12) to discuss ways to reduce the risk of controversy over future woodland creation proposals.
The group agreed that the report of the Woodland Expansion Advisory Group provided an excellent basis, and that they would work closely together, for example, in developing practical guidance on land suitability for tree planting and opportunities for closer integration with agriculture. They also stressed the need to ensure that when the Forestry Commission buys land, local communities are given the opportunity to have their say about how best to use it at an early stage.
Those present were Dr Bob McIntosh, David Howat, Simon Hodge and Robin Waddell (Forestry Commission Scotland), Angus McCall (Scottish Tenant Farmers Association), Nigel Miller and Jonnie Hall (National Farmers Union Scotland), and Ian Anderson (Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers).
Dr McIntosh said: "A number of very useful suggestions for improving our processes emerged from this meeting and I will be discussing these with the Cabinet Secretary, Richard Lochhead."
NFU Scotland President, Nigel Miller added: "The WEAG report and recommendations provide a positive policy framework and set of principles for woodland expansion in the future. To build on this progress, the next step is to establish a clear route that will allow local agricultural interests to link in the planning and consultation stages from the outset. Positive engagement with all interested parties will help smooth what can be a difficult decision-making process."
Angus McCall, STFA chairman, said; "STFA welcomes Forestry Commission Scotland’s commitment to give the agricultural sector, local communities and other rural stakeholders greater involvement in the decision making process on the suitability of tree planting proposals. At the meeting we stressed the importance of transparency and consultation at an early stage, particularly in the context of FCS’ land purchase policy."
In the light of concerns about 'blanket' woodland creation, FCS indicated that in areas acquired for woodland creation, roughly half of the land is retained unplanted, and is actively grazed where possible. The group agreed that this is creating great opportunities for demonstrating best practice in the integration of farming and forestry for new entrants and existing rural businesses.
Media enquires to Diana McGowan, Forestry Commission Scotland, 0131 314 6162