Finding a Friendlier Forestry Future

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21st March 2019, by Alan McDonnell

Consultations on the new Scottish Forestry Strategy marked the start of an interesting foray into the world of forestry policy for Trees for Life. We knew we were stepping into a heated debate. Native woodland voices like ours highlight the damaging effects commercial forestry can have on our soils, freshwater, biodiversity and landscapes. Equally, the commercial sector point to the 26,000 Scottish jobs supported by the industry, the carbon it sequesters and the opportunities for outdoor recreation it provides. In this game of tug of war, it can be curious to reflect how two groups of people who so admire trees can spend so much time disagreeing about them.

Surely there is a win-win here. Can’t we retain our forestry’s economic strengths, reduce its environmental costs andincrease its benefits for people and nature? We believe it is possible if the right strategic approach can be sustained over time. We believe that Scotland, like other European countries who have already begun this journey, has the potential to operate a commercially valuable forestry industry that is richer in nature with reduced reliance on clearfell and restock conifer plantations and in turn, less ecological damage. 

This is not a call for an end to conifer plantations, but for a gradual transition to a more diverse mix of forest types and forestry practices. We might eventually take less timber out of our forests, but more of it would be high value. Small can be beautiful when it allows timber-based businesses to set up close to the forests so that the value can be added to rural communities where relatively small amounts of money can make a big difference to the local economy. At the same time, the benefits for our wildlife, soils, water and for people’s enjoyment of woodlands can make a massive difference to nature across Highland landscapes. 

This isn’t an easy journey; there are many different perspectives and conflict is commonplace. However, there are reasonable people right across the forestry debate. Much of our work now, whether it’s in Trees for Life Woodland Services, Caledonian Pinewood Recovery, Skills for Rewilding, red squirrel reintroduction or at Dundreggan, is about finding ways to reach out and work with those who want to find the best solutions for anyone affected by Scotland’s forests, which when you think about it, is pretty much everyone. 

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