Scottish Woodlands Ltd                            DEF0047


Written evidence submitted by Scottish Woodlands Ltd



Scottish Woodlands is a forest, land and estate management company working from 19 offices across all four nations of the UK.  We have an annual turnover of over £125m, manage approaching 300,000 hectares of land and market in excess of 1.2 million tonnes of timber per yearIn a normal year we undertake around 3,000 - 4,000hectares of woodland creation, approximately 25% the UK total. We are an employee-owned company with 235 staff who work with 370 approved contractors and thousands of operatives across the rural economy.





Growing the UK timber industry

  1. Does the UK Government have an adequate understanding of the future demand for timber, including what tree species should be grown?




It is not clear that the UK Government has the necessary understanding of the future demand for timber and timber products. The World Bank estimates that global demand for timber will triple by 2050 and the UK already imports 82% of all its timber requirements. Forest Research estimate that UK softwood availability will notably drop into the 2040’s due to the cessation of commercial planting in the late 1980’s.  The UK risks a perfect storm of reducing supply and increasing demand. Due to this anticipated increased competition for available timber in world markets, the UK may struggle to maintain its current level of imports let alone achieve a substantial increase to meet demand - a fact recent geopolitical issues have highlighted in many sectors.  There appears to be a misguided belief that the UK can fill the gap between domestic supply and demand with imports, which is not realistic. The UK Govt has not actively encouraged the planting of productive species, particularly in England and this policy should change in order to help improve our timber self-sufficiency. 


As a comparison, we are 109% self-sufficient in lamb production. Forestry has the potential to turn lower-grade, lower output agricultural land into highly productive forests and woodlands, boosting the economy. 


Much has been made of the ability of trees (of any species) to capture CO₂ from the atmosphere and store it as carbon. The greater opportunity is for trees to be harvested to produce utilisable timber, with the carbon stored in the built environment and other products, then replanted to capture more CO₂ from the atmosphere. It is therefore vitally important that woodland creation policy and replanting is focussed on timber producing species, particularly conifer species such as spruce, pine and fir.  We need to greatly increase the area of native woodlands in the UK, but managing forests using productive conifers is estimated to sequester 3 times the CO2 of native broadleaf woodlands.  This can be done whilst also providing benefits in terms of biodiversity, flood alleviation, access, shelter and helping create attractive, visually diverse landscapes



Action points


  1. Improve & streamline the woodland creation process to increase levels of planting
  2. Actively encourage and incentivise the planting of productive species in woodland creation schemes and at time of replanting



  1. Does the UK Government, working with the devolved administrations, have an effective, joined-up plan with appropriate incentives to increase the production and use of sustainable, domestically grown timber in the UK to reduce its reliance on imports?




The UK Government set a target to plant 30,000 hectares of new woodlands per year by the end of the current parliament and we support that ambition.  These targets are being widely missed and the failure to achieve them is clear evidence of the inability of the UK Government and the devolved administrations to deliver on their individual commitments.  Given that domestically grown timber is forecast to decline in 20 years time, if we are to avoid being increasingly reliant on imports, then increased woodland creation will be required to maintain and increase domestic supply.  UK produced timber also has the added benefit of being sustainably produced, with much of it also being independently certified under the UK Woodland Assurance Standard (UKWAS).  This is in contrast to imported timber which in some cases is produced unsustainably or at worst illegally from virgin forests.  It could be argued that increasing reliance on imported timber is simply off-shoring our environmental footprint. 


Currently, the implementation of woodland creation is a devolved matter, with each part of the UK taking a different approach in their attempts to achieve the targets that have been set.  In recent years, Scotland has been most effective in delivering woodland creation, achieving in excess of 10,000ha/year over the last three years with the other nations performing poorly in comparison.  Scotland has been more successful due to stronger political support for woodland creation and a more effective approval regime.  This has in turn given confidence to landowners and forestry investors to acquire land and engage companies like ourselves to apply for an implement schemes.  We as a company regularly implement several thousand hectares a year, more than any other company, and have tens of thousands of hectares of potential woodland creation at various stages of development across Scotland.  This is evidence that having an effective approval regime and a long-term commitment to woodland creation can be effective.  There is no reason why this could not be replicated in the other nations of the UK, most notably in England. 


One reason for Scotland’s recent positive performance was the commissioning and implementation of the 2016 Mackinnon Review, which sought to streamline this approval process.  We are currently working on three of the four largest (>100ha) woodland creation schemes in England, as part of a potentially 3,000ha program in Northumberland.  This is a complicated, expensive and time-consuming process which will not be open to many landowners as a result.  England should commission its own review of the woodland creation approval process, in order to improve and streamline it


In Wales we face similar problems, with a complicated and expensive approval process coupled with low levels of grant support.  The process and levels of support must be urgently reviewed if targets are to be met in Wales. 


In Northern Ireland there is not a strong financial case for woodland creation due to the high levels of farm support compared with forestry grants.  For targets to be met here this balance needs to be notably altered.  We also have a small window each year in which to make woodland creation applications which unduly restricts activities and can put farmers and other landowners off making an application as they may have to wait 9 months to do so.  This window should be extended or scrapped altogether. 


Some of the key issues that need addressing include how to balance the need of increasing woodland planting (native, productive and mixed schemes) with other considerations.  These include impact on protected habitats, breeding birds, archaeology, landscaping, local public opinion etc.  Guidance on how to balance these priorities is currently set by Forestry Commission/Natural England/DEFRA with very little private sector input.  This can lead to guidance being difficult/expensive/impractical to implement.  The recent breeding wader guidance, for example, was a genuine attempt by the three bodies to find a practical solution of balancing woodland creation with the impact on breeding waders.  There are however a number of concerns that we have about it and some of the scientific evidence used to back up elements of the guidance was very limited or contestedWe would like to see private sector involvement alongside the statutory bodies when setting and reviewing industry guidance such as this, potentially through industry bodies such as Confederation of Forest Industries (Confor).


It is possible for some areas that would be well suited to woodland creation to be deemed unsuitable, due to the presence of a protected species or priority habitat.  We do not want rare species and habitats to be notably negatively impacted by woodland creation, however the black and white approach to some of these issues can limit the planting of woodland on sites of modest ecological value.  We would like to see a move to an Environmental Net Gain model, where the benefits of woodland planting are looked at alongside any potential negative impacts.


Increasing woodland creation not only needs an improvement in structure and guidance, it needs a change in culture and leadership from DEFRA, Forestry England and bodies such as Natural England and the National ParksThe current priorities are focussed on conservation rather than economic recovery, self-sufficiency and carbon sequestration.  As a result of this, we often face opposition from these bodies when attempting to obtain planting approvalAchieving woodland creation targets should not only be a KPI for Forestry Commission, but for all other bodies, in order to help encourage them to support well designed applications. 


Planting new native woodlands is, in most situations’ habitat restoration, i.e. it’s putting back what was once there before human settlement took place.  There should therefore be ‘assumed consent’ to native planting, unless good reason can be given not to plant it.  If it is deemed that environmental surveys and consultations need to be organised and undertaken, then these should be fully paid for by grant support rather than the current situation, where an applicant can end up substantially out of pocket merely for wanting to do the right thing. 


The area of coniferous woodland in the UK is estimated at 1.3million hectares.  The area of broadleaved woodland is also estimated at 1.3million hectares.  Total softwood (coniferous) production is estimated at 10million tonnes/year.  Total hardwood production is estimated at 830,00 tonnes/year, one twelfth that of conifer timber.  This is partly due to the slower growth and poorer quality of most hardwood timber and due to the under-management of many broadleaf woodlands.  Indeed, the Woodland Ecological Condition survey classified up to 80% of Englands broadleaf woods, as being in a degraded condition due to lack of management.  These statistics help support the view that if the UK is to increase its timber production, this needs to be based on coniferous planting.  It also evidences that policies need to be put into place to increase the management of under-managed woods.  This would increase economic activity, create jobs, boost the supply of sustainable fuel & materials, and help fight climate change.


Despite the economic and climate change importance of productive conifers, only 9% of woodland creation in England in 2020-21 was planted with coniferous species, with that figure being 28% in Wales, 65% in Scotland and 24% in Northern Ireland.  The planting of productive species should be increased to realise the many benefits they provide.  The planting of broadleaf species suitable for timber and firewood production should also be encouraged, even within native woodland creation schemes, with species such as Oak and birch planted at suitable densities and managed, to ensure they produce quality timber where possible. 


Government also has the potential to greatly increase the demand and utilisation of timber through its own procurement processes and wider messaging.  As part of its Net Zero strategy the Government has committed to promoting the use of timber in construction.  We would urge them to recommit to this as well as increasing the amount of UK grown timber utilised in both national and local government building contracts. 




Action Points


  1. UK Govt to re-commit to its 2019 manifesto pledges in regards woodland creation
  2. Commit to the majority of all woodland creation schemes in each of the four nations to be planted with conifer species & encourage the planting of a productive element in all woodland creation schemes, including in native broadleaf planting
  3. Need for a change in culture within DEFRA, including making achieving woodland creation targets a KPI for all statutory bodies associated with the regulation of land
  4. Review the English woodland creation approval process in order to help speed and up and simplify it
  5. Review how environmental and other priorities are weighted when compared to achieving woodland creation targets and move to an Environmental Net Gain model of assessment
  6. Planting native woods should become ‘assumed consent’
  7. Increase the use of UK grown timber in UK and local Govt construction projects
  8. Private sector involvement in setting woodland creation guidance documents
  9. Encourage & incentivise the pro-active management of under managed woodlands
  10. Encourage Welsh Government to review rates of grant support for woodland creation and the approval process
  11. Encourage Northern Irish Executive to provide better financial incentives for woodland creation and extend application window



  1. Are there sustainable sources of biomass for UK energy generation either from imported or domestically grown wood for pellet or woodchip? And how can future demand be met from sustainable sources? 




Sustainable biomass for energy generation is available from independently certified domestic and imported sources.  Demand is likely to increase and, in an ever more competitive global market, securing supplies will become increasingly challenging. Developing the domestic resource will therefore be vital but, without the woodland creation targets being met, a sustainable increase in domestic production of forestry derived woody biomass fuels will not be achieved.



  1. How well is the UK Government managing its plans for the domestic timber industry in tandem with meeting its woodland creation targets and related climate change, biodiversity and other environmental goals?


The UK Government plans for the domestic timber industry are not clear so it’s difficult to gauge how well they are being managed.  There is a disconnect between statements made by government and delivery.


Much has been said about the increased use of wood in construction to assist achieving net zero targets and there is enormous potential to increase the use of domestic sawn wood in structural applications.  This would lower the embedded carbon of our housing stock, enable better thermal performance, and encourage investment in UK forestry and sawmilling sectors.


The level of research, investment, and utilisation of engineered timber products in the UK is low. There has been some work by the BE-ST into the use of cross-laminated timber (CLT) for example, but this and other materials need much more investment if we are to manufacture them at scale.  UK timber is well suited to this type of utilisation, and we should be a leading nation in terms of research and use of these products, not playing catch up.


One current barrier of expanding the use of timber in construction are the limitations imposed on it.  For example, structural timber can only be used in buildings up to 18m in height.  High rise timber buildings have been shown to perform well, including in regard to fire performance and satisfying the regulatory systems in many developed nations around the world, such as in North America, Europe and Australia.  The tallest mass timber building in the world is the Ascent in Milwaukee at 86.6m, built predominately with CLT and Glu-laminated timber.  The UK should update its building standards to enable innovative UK architects to expand the use of engineered timber and build our own world leading timber buildings.



Action Points


  1. Increase the use of sawn timber in construction
  2. Increase the research and investment in engineered timber
  3. Modernise building standards to enable greater use of timber & engineered timber in construction



  1. How effectively is the UK strengthening the resilience of its tree stock to ensure it is resilient to the future impacts of climate change, as well as to pests and diseases?


Not very well.


The UK forestry industry is heavily dependent upon Sitka Spruce and there is limited use or utilisation of other planting stock or timber.  The great benefits of Sitka Spruce is that it grows good quality timber, quickly on a variety of sites including on poor soils and exposed sites.  It is also the basis of the UK sawmilling industry, and we should continue to support and encourage its planting.  Going forward, it is important to increase the variety of species on which the UK timber industry depends on & increase the productivity and resilience of this planting stock, including Sitka Spruce.  This will make the industry more resilient to the threat posed by the increased risk pests and diseases that climate change brings, as well as increasing the yield and quality of timber we produce, improving the economic output of the sector.


Along with other major industry partners, Scottish Woodlands are full members of the Conifer Breeding Cooperative.  The Coop has been successful in securing TPIF funding to support breeding programmes in Douglas Fir and Norway Spruce to ensure that the future planting of these species, along with Sitka Spruce, uses the best available genetics.  By using the best available material, we can grow more timber and sequester more carbon with the same land.  A priority for government should therefore be to ensure that there is sufficient funding for tree breeding in the medium to long term, to ensure that programmes can be taken forward over a wide range of species, to provide resilience and productivity in UK forests in the years to come.


One other benefit of Sitka Spruce is that it is, by its nature, resistant to deer browsing.  Most other species that we may plant in its place are more palatable to deer and tend to be browsed before they are able to be established, causing either failed crops, or the need for expensive deer fencing.  The UK deer population is many times higher than it would have been before their natural predators where removed.  An important objective in land management should be to reduce deer numbers to more ‘normal’ levels, which would allow natural regeneration of native species, enhancing the biodiversity in existing woodlands, and facilitating more diverse productive species to be planted. 



Action Points


  1. Increase investment in tree breeding programmes
  2. Reduce the deer population




The effectiveness of UK efforts to reduce global deforestation

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Working with international partners to tackle deforestation

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It is neither morally acceptable, nor environmentally or economically sustainable, for the UK to continue to export its timber footprint to the rest of the world. At the same time, the forest industry is uniquely placed to help address both the Climate and Biodiversity Crises. Increasing the amount of woodland cover, especially of productive species, and further investing in the forestry industry, can play an important part in the UK’s economic recovery, whilst also helping the nation meet its net-zero objectives.


September 2022