1. Forestry Commision Scotland (FCS) operates a re-positioning programme which is intended to increase the contribution of the national forest estate to the delivery of FCS, and wider Government, objectives.
Subject to the approval of Ministers, through the periodic Government Spending Reviews, FCS sells land and forests contributing least to delivery of public benefits and uses the proceeds to invest in projects, particularly land acquisition for woodland creation, which contribute significantly to the delivery of the Government’s Scottish Forestry Strategy.
- sets out the policy context to this programme
- describes the criteria used in selecting properties for sale and purchase
- provides up-to-date figures on the area and value of land sold and purchased.
2. Prior to 1980, sale of land and forests was not an issue and very little took place.
3. Following a review of forestry policy in 1980, the then Conservative Government concluded that the FC should sell a proportion of its estate to meet Government objectives to expand the private forestry sector and reduce the FC’s annual call on Government funding.
The Forestry Act 1981 provided Ministers with the powers to dispose, for any purpose, of land acquired for purposes connected with forestry. Between 1981 and 1997, some 73,000 ha of land and forests in Scotland were sold.
4. In 1997 the incoming Labour administration rescinded this policy and replaced it with the following:
"The Commission may only sell agricultural land, land associated with houses and other buildings, unplantable land and relatively small and isolated blocks of forest land which do not make a significant contribution to its objectives and which are surplus to its requirements.
"The Commission may also sell areas for development where this is in the public interest. Areas of forest land which are important for public access will not be sold unless an access agreement is in place."
During this time there was no formal policy towards acquisitions and the FC was free to acquire land if capital was available.
5. Following devolution of forestry policy responsibility to the Scottish Government in 1999, Scottish Ministers were content to continue with this policy.
6. The first Quinquennial Review (QR) of Forest Enterprise was carried out in 2001 when it was still a single GB-wide Agency. The review suggested that the estate was too static in nature and that the current location and nature of the land and woodlands did not necessarily fit well with current forestry policy objectives.
It recommended that the FC bring forward proposals to Ministers to set up a rolling land acquisitions fund, financed by the sale of parts of the estate which have relatively low public benefits, in order to raise the social and environmental value of its estate. The recommendations of the QR were accepted by Ministers.
7. This issue was taken forward as part of the public consultation on the Future Role of Scotland’s National Forests in 2003.
The review group reported to Ministers in May 2004 and Ministers agreed to the proposal that FCS proceed with a re-positioning approach, selling areas with low potential to deliver public benefits to invest in programmes (including land/ woodland acquisition) which would make a significant contribution to delivery of the Scottish Forestry Strategy.
The report and the Ministers’ response to it was published in October 2004.
8. That policy is the one we are operating to today.
9. To guide the selection of properties for disposal as part of the re-positioning programme, a portfolio evaluation exercise was carried out. This consisted of an evaluation, through a scoring mechanism, of the value of each property in terms of its contribution to the delivery of economic, social and environmental objectives.
10. The scoring matrix arising from this exercise is used to identify those properties which contribute least to delivery of FCS and wider Government objectives, and which are therefore potential sale candidates.
11. Properties chosen for sale will typically have all or some of the following characteristics:
- Relatively low levels of public access and use.
- Relatively remote from significant communities and with limited or no community involvement.
- No significant natural and cultural heritage assets that would be put at risk by sale.
- No prominent landscape features that would be put at risk by sale.
- Likely to be expensive to manage and/or to generate low levels of income.
12. The main focus of the acquisition programme is bare land suitable for the planting of new woodlands. FCS will acquire existing woodlands only in circumstances where they come as an integral part of land acquired for planting or where there would be significant public benefits arising from their acquisition.
13. Properties acquired will typically have some or all of the following characteristics:
- Be capable of producing productive woodlands making a significant contribution to net carbon sequestration and the delivery of the Government’s Climate Change Delivery Plan targets.
- Be suitable for the creation of new native woodlands contributing to the delivery of native woodland Habitat Action Plans.
- Be located near to centres of population and capable of contributing to the delivery of the Woods In and Around Towns (WIAT) initiative.
Opportunities for Communities
14. The National Forest Land Scheme was introduced in 2005 as a result of the recommendations in the Review of the Land Managed by Forestry Commission Scotland. It provides a mechanism by which local communities can apply to buy or lease land from FCS, whether or not that land has been offered for sale.
15. Communities that produce a proposal that meets the following criteria may be offered the ability to acquire the land, free from competition, at the District Valuer’s valuation:
- The community organisation must meet some eligibility criteria and be a properly constituted body.
- The community must have a substantial connection with the land.
- The community must have the capacity to manage the land.
- The proposal must have community support.
- The proposal must be consistent with the principles of sustainable development.
- The proposal should not be significantly detrimental to management of the National Forest Estate.
16. Applications from communities are evaluated by an independent evaluation panel.
17. In operating the re-positioning programme FCS will seek to continue to deliver against all of its current objectives. There will, however, be some gradual changes in the nature of the estate:
a. To increase the contribution of the estate to social outcomes such as improved health and well-being and community capacity building, there will be a gradual shift from rural to urban and peri-urban areas.
Most of the properties sold are likely to be in areas relatively remote from significant communities and most of the properties purchased are likely to be closer to significant centres of population.
b. The unit cost of acquiring and planting land is generally higher than the unit price achieved from land sales, so, over time, there will be a slight reduction in the size of the National Forest Estate, but an increase in its overall value in contributing to delivery of the Scottish Forestry Strategy.
c. While the market for forest properties is relatively strong, opportunities to acquire, in the market place, land suitable for woodland creation are relatively limited. FCS may therefore be unable to balance, in any one year, the value of land sold and capital re-invested but will seek to do so over several years.
d. Recycling the sales income into woodland creation will be the priority, but FCS may invest the capital receipts in other capital projects such as buildings servicing visitors and recreational users.
18. Table 1 provides a summary of the area and value of land bought and sold since 1999 (PDF 60k).
19. Table 2 provides details, since the re-positioning programme began in 2005/06, of individual acquisitions (PDF 85k) .
These figures have been extracted from centrally held files. Figures have been rounded.
20. Table 3 provides details, since the re-positioning programme began in 2005/06, of individual sales (PDF 132k).
These figures have been extracted from centrally held files. Figures have been rounded.
21. Table 4 provides details of the income received in each year since 2005/06 and the funds spent on land acquisition, woodland creation and other capital projects funded through the re-positioning programme: Re-positioning programme funding (PDF 34k).
Some of the disposals were carried out through the National Forest Land Scheme (introduced in 2005). Under the NFLS, local communities are offered first refusal on parcels of land that the Commission is looking sell.
The Community must show that their ownership and management of the land will deliver increased public benefit. For more information see the National Forest Land Scheme.
22. The 2011 Spending Review settlement for FCS includes provision for a re-positioning programme in 2012/13 - 2014/15 which involves the sale of properties to the value of £30m, with the proceeds recycled into purchase or leasing and planting of land for the creation of new woodlands.