Scotland’s forestry sector needs to shake off its tag as a destroyer of trees and natural habitat and show that it can help fight climate change while offering a huge opportunity for jobs and investment, a conference heard.
One of the industry’s leading figures told a gathering in Edinburgh that it had been “ahead of the curve” on the benefits of tree plant and harvesting, but had failed to challenge negative views.
Stuart Goodall, chief executive of Confor, said it was time for the industry to be recognised for its contribution to biodiversity and how it offered solutions to the problems climate change and flooding.
“Forestry is ahead of the curve. We are now dusting off things we were doing 10 years ago when people were not ready to hear what we were saying,” he said.
“We had no recognition for that. As a forestry sector we need to put more into communicating our message. We are part of what modern society expects and we need to stop people beating us over the head on something we have been doing for years.”
He questioned some government policies and particularly the lack of investment in planting in Wales, “the source of much of the flooding in England”.
Mr Goodall was joined by David Robertson of Scottish Woodlands and Don Macleod of law firm Turcan Connell in jointly spelling out the benefits that can be gained from a sustainable forestry strategy.
It was good for the environment, for jobs, farmers, timber producers, investors and for the wider economy, they argued.
Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing told delegates attending Forestry in Scotland: Investing in the Future, held at Panmure House, the historic home of the economist Adam Smith, that the government actively supported the forestry industry.
He said there had been big changes to tackle its reputation as a tax avoidance scheme, which 30 years ago drew negative headlines around celebrity investors such as the radio presenter Terry Wogan.
“The bad old days are gone,” insisted Mr Ewing, who also defended the planting of conifers rather than native wild species. “We need to have a steady supply of commercial species,” he said.
He said the Scottish Government was committed to raising the target of planting to 12,000 hectares per year and 15,000 by 2025. This is backed by a £64m package of funding for forestry in the Budget.
Scotland accounted for 84% of all trees planted in the UK in 2018/19 and 90% were planted by the private sector.
This created a huge industry which was also one of the biggest investors in the country. Even so, the UK is the second biggest importer of timber in the world after China. Rising demand, particularly in housebuilding, made the case for further development of the UK’s indigenous timber industry.
“We must look at this not just on climate change grounds but as an economic opportunity,” said Mr Ewing.
He and other speakers questioned whether England was able to meet its own targets and whether there would be Westminster support to plant more in Scotland.
Mr Robertson said the targets for planting were bold, but achievable, particularly if the governments north and south of the border stick to their commitments to support the industry. “We are a long term industry and we need long term funding,” he said.
The plan is to increase woodland in Scotland from 18% of the land mass to 21% by 2032.
“It looks like it could be achievable on current planting rates,” he said.
Mr Macleod said the tax reliefs for investors, which had been in place since the 1960s, were often seen as being “too good to be true” but there was no indication that they would be removed.
“People are still buying forestry for the tax benefits,” he said, adding that they break down into those who support it for lifestyle purposes, others for the tax gains, or as an investment, given the good returns available.
Noting that all parties had pledged to out-plant each other in the general election campaign, he said: “There is no asset class with such a favourable tax regime. It would be pretty surprising if governments started taxing an activity that all parties are encouraging.”
The conference also heard how farmers were benefiting from converting their land to tree planting.
Tom Pate from Angus, told delegates how forestry became a viable option to the struggles he was having as a sheep farmer.
It had led to establishing a herd of deer which was also providing a profitable return.
Sourced From: Daily Business