Tuesday (20 March) saw the Scottish Parliament give final approval to Scotland’s first ever Forestry Bill, a historic event that shows the real importance of forestry to Scotland, and the influence of the Woodland Trust can be seen throughout the finished text.
The main aim of the Bill is to complete the devolution of forestry from Westminster to Holyrood by transferring the powers of the Forestry Commissioners to the Scottish Government and transfer and update forestry law from the 1967 UK Forestry Act. Additionally, it sets the Scottish Forestry Strategy on a statutory basis, making the most important strategic document for woods in Scotland a legal necessity. As well as all of this, right at the heart of this Bill, are a number of issues that the Woodland Trust have been campaigning for and, thanks to the support of our members and supporters, are now part of the law in Scotland.
Changes for the better
One aspect of the Bill is to create a duty on the Scottish Government to promote “sustainable forestry management”, which we are delighted to see. However, thanks to Colin Smyth MSP, an amendment was picked up extending this duty to all Scottish public authorities. As a result, we will now have all of the public sector thinking about sustainable forestry in the exact same bold way the similar ‘biodiversity duty’ has been doing for biodiversity since 2004.
Thanks are also necessary for John Finnie MSP (our Species Champion for Aspen and a great all-round champion for native trees), who proposed a successful amendment that stated that the new Scottish Forestry Strategy should include a policy for expanding woodland cover.
Chair of the Scottish Parliament’s Environment Committee, Graeme Dey MSP, also spoke up for the amendments strengthening the powers on temporary stop notices on felling licences. He quoted the recent situation at Monikie in his constituency, where the Woodland Trust has been supporting the local community to try to protect native woodland, which could have been greatly helped by stop notices like these.
Thanks are also due to Claudia Beamish MSP for ensuring the Scottish Forestry Strategy will now have to take into consideration the code of practice on deer management and the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy – addressing two of the biggest factors facing Scotland’s native woods.
The structure of the Forestry Commission
Many will remember the Woodland Trust’s ‘Stop the Chop’ campaign in 2016, which aimed to stop the policy and regulatory function of the Forestry Commission being centralised into the Scottish Government’s Environment Directorate of the Civil Service. Over 4,000 members and supporters responded to our petition, and of the 600 formal consultation responses, two-thirds opposed the change.
In a surprise move at the Bill’s final debate, all four opposition parties in the Scottish Parliament supported an amendment that means the Scottish Government now has to “establish a single agency or two agencies” to carry out their forestry functions - exactly what the Woodland Trust asked for in our consultation response back in 2016.
As far as we know, there has been no work done in government regarding what a structure like this would look like. We hope we can work with the Government, its staff, and the current Forestry Commission to make sure the new structure reflects what is best for Scotland.
Well done to everyone who had their voices heard for the future of Scotland’s forests, and trees. You have made a real difference.
The passing of the Bill is not the end of the road for our policy team in Scotland. Next comes the content of the new Scottish Forestry Strategy, the most significant document in the Scottish Government for everything that the Woodland Trust thinks is important. As the Bill sets out, it will be open to a wide public consultation, so get your pens and keyboards ready, and look out for our advice on the sort of things we would like to see later in the year.
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