Anne McCall takes a look at what’s being proposed in the ‘Forestry Bill’ currently working its way through the Scottish Parliament.

Scotland’s Forestry Bill

The subject of governance arrangements and organisational structures is never one to set the world alight. But these things do matter. As the ‘Forestry Bill’ works its way through the Scottish Parliament, there are some who have raised concerns about the perceived breaking up of Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) and about changes to Forest Enterprise Scotland (FES). To provide clarity on these matters, Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing recently made an announcement setting out his plans. These seem relatively non-contentious to us and we welcome the clarity that has been provided at this stage. Ultimately what matters for forestry, and the impacts it has, comes down to ow the newly proposed bodies exercise their duties and functions.

So what has been proposed? The current regulatory, policy, support and grant-giving functions of FCS will transfer to a dedicated forestry division called Scottish Forestry (FS) in Scottish Government. Management of the National Forest Estate (NFE) will transfer from FES, currently an agency of the Forestry Commissioners, to a new agency Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS). One positive outcome of this change is the clear separation of the regulator (SF) and the regulated (FLS), the latter in its role as a forest manager. A key task for FS going forward will be the production of a new Forestry Strategy. This will set the framework for forestry policy and practice for years to come and we will be working to influence its content and keeping a close eye on it. It will be essential that it has at its heart the promotion of sustainable forestry and that it ensures forestry is integrated with other land uses, such as agriculture. It must also ensure forestry plays its part in delivering the objectives of Scotland’s Land Use Strategy including delivering a wide range of environmental outcomes.

Something else to welcome in the announcement is the proposal for FLS to establish a Stakeholder Panel to engage with, and seek advice and feedback from, stakeholders. As forest managers ourselves on our nature reserves and with a strong interest in forestry policy and practice given the both positive and negative effects it can have on our wildlife, we look forward to engaging with this Panel going forward.  As with all organisational change though there are always some downsides and we are concerned about the possible loss of biodiversity and conservation expertise in the move from FES to FLS. We hope our concerns are ill founded and that current conservation efforts on the NFE will not decline as a result of the changes.