Scottish Wild Land Group response to Woodland Expansion Advisory Group

January 2012

The Scottish Wild Land Group is a small charity established 30 years ago to campaign on issues connected to Scottish Wild Land; the only wholly volunteer-run charity of its kind. We are particularly concerned with the promotion of ecologically healthy and economically productive wild land in Scotland.

We warmly welcome moves to expand woodland cover in Scotland and the establishment of the Woodland Expansion Advisory group. The extent of woodland in Scotland has been relentlessly decreased by human activity for several centuries, and the reversal of this trend may provide numerous social, environmental and economic benefits. We particularly hope that woodland comprised of native species will be prioritised in this expansion as this currently covers only some 4% of Scotland (MacKenzie 1999), despite being thought to have a natural range of 50%. We believe that managed and semi-natural native woodlands are ecologically essential. They are also important social and recreational assets, and their potential contribution to economic productivity and employment in rural areas has been consistently underestimated in the past.

1. Where you see opportunities for woodland expansion that are not currently being taken up. What do you think is stopping such woodland expansion?

We believe that the single largest opportunity for woodland expansion is in the management of native woodland as an economic resource, for biofuels, wood products, recreational resources, shelter for livestock and habitat for native flora and fauna. Expansion of native woodland managed for these diverse objectives would greatly enhance biodiversity and ecosystem services such as flood prevention and the provision of clean air and water. It would also help to mitigate the effects of climate change. Small-scale silviculture on agricultural holdings, a tradition which has been largely lost in Scotland but which continues in many other European countries, would dramatically increase woodland cover and provide direct benefits to farmers and crofters. As demonstrated by previous research (Brown, 1991), the establishment and subsequent management of new native woodlands on impoverished and underutilized common grazing land in crofting areas could contribute significantly to employment and the development of valuable new skills in small rural communities. Similarly, areas of protected woodland on sporting estates would allow for the development of networks of forested areas to support biodiversity and allow the free movement and regeneration of native species. They would also benefit estate owners by providing shelter for deer, originally a woodland species, improving their welfare, size and value. Crucially, management objectives could encompass a range of woodland types, especially montane scrub woodlands which are currently often neglected but ecologically highly significant.

The main obstacle to woodland expansion of this kind is the recent decline in a culture of woodland management that was once pervasive in agriculture and estate management. As a result of this decline, many land managers are unaware of woodland management techniques and of the potential benefits of woodland to them. This is exacerbated by a paucity of specifically Scottish data about the economic potential of native woodland, though relatively small-scale studies have been carried out and a wealth of information is available from other European countries such as France, Slovakia and Scandinavia that could inform medium and long term woodland management strategies in this country.

Priority should therefore be given to the identification and dissemination of the economic benefits of native woodland management, particularly where it involves the diversification of agricultural and estate activities, which is widely recognized as a desirable process. A substantial amount of research may be necessary to identify the full economic consequences of this approach, while the social and environmental effects are easier to predict.

We also believe that native woodland expansion should be given priority where small areas of semi-natural native woodland currently survive, or where indicator species of ancient woodland are found. This would ensure some continuity in land cover and help to prevent further extinctions of native species, especially under the pressure of climate change. These areas could also provide reservoirs of native species which could be connected through smaller-scale woods and through the inclusion of permanent areas of native woods in commercial conifer plantations. This latter step would increase the recreational, aesthetic and environmental values of commercial plantations, and is compatible with many of the Forestry Commission’s design and management aims.

Finally, we believe that particular priority should be given to the protection and where possible expansion of Scotland’s most threatened woodland habitats, including montane scrub woodland and temperate rainforest such as atlantic oak woodlands.

2. Examples of where woodland management comes into conflict with other land management objectives. We are particularly interested to hear where current regulatory and consultation mechanisms do not seem able to prevent such conflict.

Woodland management suffers from apparent conflict with several other land management objectives. In particular, the management of sporting estates tends to prioritize high deer densities for immediate sporting purposes over the longer term benefits of responsible woodland conservation and management. The sparse and impoverished nature of so many native woodlands in Scotland, and in the Highlands and Islands in particular, has tended to encourage such short-term approaches to land management on many estates. Ironically, one consequence has been a relentless depletion of the woodland resource to the detriment of the welfare of the red deer population. There is also, of course, the important local, national and international public interest in protecting and enhancing healthy, natural environments. The conflict between these interests is not adequately addressed by current regulatory or consultation mechanisms.

3. The way that conflicts between woodland expansion and other land management objectives could be better resolved in future.

Conflicts between woodland expansion and other land management objectives could be resolved through research, dialogue and leadership from government bodies, the Forestry Commission and Scottish Natural Heritage in particular. Government leadership in the form of grants and other forms of financial aid, as well as advice and initiatives to develop the relevant knowledge and skills, will be essential given the long-term nature of investment in the future of woodlands. We believe, however, that a stronger commitment by government to the longer term will have the very significant social, environmental and economic benefits outlined above.

Conflict between existing environmental values, access regulations and woodland expansion should be avoided. Newly created or expanded woodlands should be carefully sited and, where relevant, designed to maintain or improve existing environmental and landscape value. The Forestry Commission and other bodies already have considerable expertise in these matters. Public access points should be provided in line with the Land Reform Act and to allow maximum social and recreational benefits of new woodlands. In addition, the gradation of woodlands managed for landscape and biodiversity, and others managed as productive resources, has helped to resolve conflicts in many other countries (e.g. North America). The designation of ‘core’ woodland areas for conservation with surrounding buffer zones in which increasing level of economic management occur, linked by corridors, is widely recognized as delivering maximum environmental and socio-economic benefits. This is particularly true under environmental change (e.g. Briers 2011).


Briers, R. (2011). Habitat network - reviewing the evidence base: final report. SNH, Inverness.

Brown, K. (1991). Crofter forestry: a report to the Nature Conservancy Council for Scotland, North-West Region. NCC, Inverness.

MacKenzie, N.A. (1999). The native woodland resource of Scotland: a review 1993 – 1998. Forestry Commission Technical Paper 30. Forestry Commission, Edinburgh.