In 2022, the RSE launched an inquiry into the benefits of public support for tree planting and forestry through planting grants, tax allowances and carbon payments.

REPORT

A sign in front of a tree

Report calls for a radical rethink of tree planting in Scotland 

The RSE report looks at the environmental and social impacts of public subsidies for the forestry sector in Scotland. There are a series of recommendations for how public financial support for tree planting in Scotland can be reorganised to better serve Scotland’s people, environment, forestry industry, and public purse. 

RSE inquiry into public financial support for tree planting and forestry 2024 (4MB, PDF)

RECOMMENDATIONS

1. Scottish Government should discontinue subsidies for coniferous commercial tree planting.

2. In discontinuing these subsidies, Scottish Government should redirect the money that is saved towards tree planting that is designed to provide long term carbon sequestration, biodiversity and public benefits.

3. The UK Government should calculate and report on the total cost of tax reliefs for woodlands, stating the purpose of the reliefs and evaluating them in respect of their cost effectiveness in meeting those objectives.

4. Scottish Government should require and empower the Enterprise Agencies to use their resources – both skills and financial – to assist the Scottish timber industry in adding value to raw timber by supporting firms to develop and expand mass timber products.

5. Scottish Forestry should ensure that Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) pay careful attention to soil composition by ensuring that sampling is done on a sufficient scale across the whole site.

6. In order to implement the UK Forestry Standard statement on techniques “that create the minimum amount of soil disturbance” (e.g. screefing), Scottish Forestry should prohibit planting with mechanical disturbance on carbon-rich soils.

7. As outlined by the UKFS, Scottish Forestry should require mixed native broadleaf planting, shrub cover and open land to be interspersed throughout commercial monoculture planting.

8. Scottish Forestry should encourage and support natural regeneration for proposed establishment of mixed native woodland and include this in its grant support criteria within the Woodland Creation category.

9. Scottish Forestry should require that planting schemes include native planting and regeneration along watercourses.

10. Scottish Forestry should require schemes to consider how the spread of invasive tree seed to adjoining land (especially peatland) will be prevented. It should also require appropriate steps to be taken to reduce such spread and, where necessary, impose conditions to remove seedlings when it does occur.

11. Scottish Forestry should require that all planting proposals of 40 ha and above, or smaller applications adjoining existing woodland, submit an EIA.

12. Scottish Government should increase capacity in Scottish Forestry for independent scrutiny of planting applications, including an increased number of EIAs, and carry out compliance monitoring during and after planting to confirm adherence to the UKFS and specific conditions.

13. Scottish Forestry should consider providing guidance on the form and content of EIA submissions.

14. Scottish Forestry should provide targeted grants to Local Authorities to plant trees in existing urban locations.

15. Local Authorities should require all new built developments with road frontages to incorporate trees in the road or on their frontages.

16. Scottish Forestry should mandate adherence to the community engagement guidelines produced by the Scottish Land Commission for all proposed planting schemes.

PREFACE

Scotland leads the UK in tree planting and woodland creation is due to increase to 18,000 hectares annually by 2024/25

60% of new forests will produce wood for house building, fencing, paper and bio-fuel

Scotland’s trees sequester the equivalent of 14% of its annual greenhouse gas emissions

Many mechanisms incentivise and support tree planting, however the extent to which these and associated activity translate into tangible environmental, economic and community benefits is not always clear. This Inquiry seeks to evaluate the impact of public financial support for Scotland’s woodlands and commercial forestry, placing it in the context of wider considerations such as the climate-nature crisis and rural regeneration. To inform the Inquiry, the RSE is issuing a call for evidence from interested parties including agencies, researchers, farmers and rural landowners, the timber industry, community groups and charities with rural interests.

A final report will be produced next year. This will offer advice to guide decision-makers in administering current and future schemes to ensure that public benefits are maximised.

Consultation overview

The Inquiry is structured around a series of questions covering:

  • scope of benefits;
  • carbon sequestration;
  • biodiversity and environmental benefits;
  • community benefits; and
  • finance.

Scope of benefits

We consider that the desired public benefits from tree planting comprise timber production, carbon sequestration, biodiversity enhancement, recreation, water management and reduction in air pollution, together with economic and social community benefits. If you consider there to be other benefits, please provide evidence for them.

  1. If you consider there to be other benefits, please provide evidence for them.

We seek to establish the extent to which current practices are delivering these benefits, how far they represent good public value in the short and long term, and what more, if anything, could be done to improve public benefits in tackling the climate-nature crisis and the economic and social well-being of resident communities by tree planting, woodland and commercial forest management.

Carbon sequestration

  1. Scottish Government has set targets for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions of 75% by 2030 and 100% by 2045 and placed commitments for woodland and commercial forestry expansion in this context. What evidence is there that current practices will ensure that all newly planted woodland will be a net sink over this period, taking account of both above- and below-ground carbon? What impact will the time lag for carbon capture of new plantings and the harvesting of previously planted commercial forestry have on meeting the targets?
  1. Are the current carbon sequestration requirements specified by the Woodland Carbon Code and UK Forestry Standard delivering their objectives?
  1. Are these requirements consistently applied?
  1. Is independent inspection to verify initial and continuing fulfilment of the Code and Standard satisfactory?
  1. Do you have evidence that offsetting payments are delivering carbon capture and other benefits in practice?

Biodiversity and environmental benefits

  1. Do you have evidence on the role tree species choice and composition have in influencing biodiversity, timber production, flood management, and other outcomes? Do the species of trees and the mix of species help, hinder or change the balance of the benefits being sought?
  1. Do you have evidence that planted woodland and commercial forestry impedes the balance between itself and the biodiversity value of other landscapes, habitats or other biodiversity interests?
  1. Do you have evidence that woodland and commercial forest design and creation practices support or hinder biodiversity benefits?
  1. To what extent are Environmental Impact Assessments carried out prior to design and planting?
  1. Do you have evidence that woodland and commercial forestry management practices support or hinder biodiversity?
  1. Are the sources of seed and new trees sufficient to meet national tree planting targets?
  1. Do you have evidence that large-scale planting on a regional level leads to negative impacts on biodiversity?
  1. Do you have evidence of any practices, good or bad, that you wish to highlight?

Community benefits

  1. Are there potential improvements that could be made to regulations and/or practice that could improve the recreational, employment or other community benefits of tree planting or commercial forestry schemes?
  1. Are local communities sufficiently involved in the development of tree planting or commercial forestry schemes?
  1. If not, what are the barriers and how might they be overcome; if they are, what works well?
  1. Do you have evidence of tree planting leading to quantifiable economic and social benefits, short and long term, for communities local to the planting?
  1. Do woodland and commercial forestry planting result in any disadvantages to communities local to the planting?
  1. To what extent does current financial support for tree planting enable planting in urban areas, including in streets/roadsides and other urban settings?
  1. Does Scotland have sufficiently skilled people to deliver/continue to deliver the desired benefits from woodland and commercial forestry? If not, what changes are needed?
  1. Do you have evidence of any conflicts between public financial support for tree planting and other land uses?
  1. Are there evidenced wider societal community benefits that arise from woodland and commercial forestry creation?  If there are, should these benefits be formally required or financially supported?

Finance

  1. Do you have evidence that the following forms of public financial support for tree planting provide good value for money:
  • Grants for tree planting?
  • Carbon offset and investment payments by government, charities or the private sector?
  • Tax allowances for land used for tree planting and commercial forests?
  • Farm payments applicable to land planted with woodland or commercial forest, e.g. Basic Payment Scheme?
  1. Do you have evidence that any of these payments have unintended results?
  1. Do you have evidence that the interaction of these payments has any public benefits or disbenefits?
  1. Do you have evidence that the structure of payments or allowances supports or hinders the public benefits?
  1. Do you have evidence of any impact on land values as a result of payments/allowances?
  1. Are the anticipated changes in farming support likely to have any impact upon woodland or commercial forestry creation?

This is a complex field and the questions above are not prescriptive. We should be pleased to learn of any other benefits, or disbenefits, you consider are brought about by public financial support for tree planting and commercial forestry in Scotland and if you consider that public financial support could be redesigned to provide greater benefits.

evidence

A public call for evidence was launched in October 2022 and ran for six weeks. Respondents were reached through a combination of targeted invitations and general promotion via newsletters, social media, and other communication channels. In total, the inquiry received 45 submissions from a range of academics, community interest groups, members of industry, public sector agencies, non-profits, sector representatives, and members of the public.

Respondents’ submissions are available below. Some submissions have been published anonymously at the request of the respondent. Two respondents did not want their response shared or referenced in any form, even anonymously. Three email submissions were sent via the inquiry webpage contact portal and were not accompanied by a formal respondent form; as a result, these responses have not been published as these individuals did not explicitly give their consent to have their responses shared.

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