The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) has launched an inquiry into the benefits of public support for tree planting and forestry through planting grants, tax allowances and carbon payments.
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.
The Inquiry is structured around a series of questions covering:
- scope of benefits;
- carbon sequestration;
- biodiversity and environmental benefits;
- community benefits; and
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.
- 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.
- 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?
- Are these requirements consistently applied?
- Is independent inspection to verify initial and continuing fulfilment of the Code and Standard satisfactory?
- Do you have evidence that offsetting payments are delivering carbon capture and other benefits in practice?
Biodiversity and environmental benefits
- 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?
- 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?
- Do you have evidence that woodland and commercial forest design and creation practices support or hinder biodiversity benefits?
- To what extent are Environmental Impact Assessments carried out prior to design and planting?
- Do you have evidence that woodland and commercial forestry management practices support or hinder biodiversity?
- Are the sources of seed and new trees sufficient to meet national tree planting targets?
- Do you have evidence that large-scale planting on a regional level leads to negative impacts on biodiversity?
- Do you have evidence of any practices, good or bad, that you wish to highlight?
- 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?
- Are local communities sufficiently involved in the development of tree planting or commercial forestry schemes?
- If not, what are the barriers and how might they be overcome; if they are, what works well?
- Do you have evidence of tree planting leading to quantifiable economic and social benefits, short and long term, for communities local to the planting?
- Do woodland and commercial forestry planting result in any disadvantages to communities local to the planting?
- To what extent does current financial support for tree planting enable planting in urban areas, including in streets/roadsides and other urban settings?
- 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?
- Do you have evidence of any conflicts between public financial support for tree planting and other land uses?
- 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?
- 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?
- Do you have evidence that any of these payments have unintended results?
- Do you have evidence that the interaction of these payments has any public benefits or disbenefits?
- Do you have evidence that the structure of payments or allowances supports or hinders the public benefits?
- Do you have evidence of any impact on land values as a result of payments/allowances?
- 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.