The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) has published a report on the environmental and social impacts of public subsidies for the forestry sector in Scotland. 

The report makes 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. 

Professor Ian Wall FRSE, who chaired the group who compiled the report, said:

A man wearing a suit and tie
Professor Ian Wall FRSE

The health of the population, and the health of the planet, is reliant on a robust, biologically diverse environment. The role of trees – the right trees in the right place – in improving biodiversity, carbon-capture, and wellbeing in both urban and rural environments cannot be overstated.

That is why the main recommendation of the report, is that subsidies for commercial forestry, which are poorer at delivering these needs should be redirected to long term, mixed native tree planting and other benefits. 

The report concludes that commercial conifer forestry, which benefits from 100% tax relief, no longer needs public subsidies that distort the market, reflected in the rapid increase in the price of land for tree planting, and that the money should be redirected to maximise the common good.

A woman smiling for the camera
Professor Pat Monaghan FRSE

Our scarce public funds must be used to maximise benefits for both the public and our environment. We now face the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss. We must ensure that our investments in tree planting are done in ways that reduce our carbon emissions without reducing our precious and fragile biodiversity. 

We urgently need a coherent strategy to manage the planting of trees in Scotland. The right trees, planted in the right way, in the right places will benefit our climate, our biodiversity and our economy. Getting this wrong will cause damage that we will deeply regret.

The report raises concerns about the fact that Environmental Impact Assessments are rarely required in practice. If, the report says, the EIA process was to be bolstered, it would help the forest industry, environmental specialists and communities to prepare better planting schemes. 

The report also proposes that enterprise companies should assist, and invest in, the Scottish timber processing sector to produce higher added-value timber products, this would not only have obvious economic benefits, but also the long-term benefit of sustained carbon capture. 

A man standing in front of a mountain
Professor Des Thompson FRSE

This report shows that there is untapped potential in the forestry sector. Not only is it vital in environmental terms, but in terms of jobs and wide social services. We need to expand educational opportunities in forestry science and practice to ensure that we seize important opportunities for enhancing rural and urban environments. 

Scotland produces more timber than any other UK nation, and there is untapped potential for job creation, production of a broader range of timber products and crucially, carbon sequestration.

Additionally, the report recommends support for more tree planting in urban areas to help combat air pollution, reduce temperatures, and improve physical and mental health.

The report demonstrates that greater, long-term benefits can be gained, not by spending more money, but in redirecting existing spending to better ends, especially at a time when public expenditure is under pressure.

The report was compiled following a public consultation, incorporating input from industry, researchers, organisations, charities, communities, and individuals.  

Read the full report and recommendations for tree planting in Scotland

An inquiry into the current public support, financial and otherwise, for tree planting and forestry in Scotland