New report highlights threat to future of forestry industry

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Confor LogoThe future of the forestry industry in Scotland is under serious threat unless urgent action is taken to secure the long-term supply of timber, a leading industry figure has warned.

Stuart Goodall, Chief Executive of Confor: Promoting forestry and wood, said action had to be taken now to protect the 40,000 jobs supported by the forestry sector in Scotland, many of them in rural communities with few other large employers.

Speaking after the Forestry Commission (FC) produced its first-ever 50-year and 100-year timber supply forecasts, Mr Goodall said Confor had analysed the figures and concluded that a ‘trough' in supply of 60 million cubic metres of timber could cost Scotland more than 1000 jobs and mean that a chance to cut carbon emissions by 55 million tonnes would be missed.

Mr Goodall said: "Action has to be taken now to safeguard a Scottish success story and ensure our industry continues to thrive in in the long-term. That means hitting existing targets to plant 6000 hectares of commercial forestry every year until 2022 - and then maintaining that through to 2042. We cannot wait until it is too late. A failure to act will see a damaging drop in investment, inevitably leading to job losses - and will make it exceptionally difficult for Scotland to meet its carbon reduction targets."

He added: "The regular 25-year FC forecasts were really helpful - but the life cycle of a softwood tree is more like 35-50 years, so we needed a longer view of where timber supply was heading. Confor feared a falling away of supply in the 30-40 year timeframe, which is why we asked for a 50-year and a 100-year forecast to be prepared. Security of supply is everything in a long-term industry like forestry - that's what the big companies in Scotland, like James Jones, Norbord and Glennons, look at when deciding on future investment."

Currently, the sector is confident, with timber supply at a record high - but Mr Goodall added: "Beyond the 25-year forecast, a gentle rise in availability gives way to a steeper fall - as a result of the falling of commercial planting in the last few years. That's why we analyzed the long-term figures and their impact - and our findings are a serious cause for concern."

Mr Goodall called on the Scottish Government to fulfill its commitment to plant 60,000 hectares of commercial forestry by 2022 - and to further commit to planting 6,000 hectares a year until 2042: "If that happens, we have estimated that 1000 jobs will be secured and 55 million tonnes of carbon can be saved - and the virtuous cycle of economic and environmental benefit will continue. Forestry is an exceptionally important business sector - as well as 40,000 jobs, it adds around £1.7 billion in value to Scotland's economy every year. Increasing domestic planting can also make a hugely positive impact on the balance of payments by reducing imports."

Tom Bruce Jones, a Confor board member and joint Managing Director of Scotland's leading sawmiller James Jones & Sons, said: "The fall-off in supply might seem far away, but we have to act now to secure a successful industry for the future. There is a big problem coming over the horizon - and it wasn't covered by the existing forecast. By the time the traditional cycle of 25-year forecasts had identified this problem, it would have been too late to do anything about it."

Mr Bruce Jones, whose company has substantial operations in Lockerbie, Moray and Angus, added: "We have to start tackling the challenges that are affecting planting rates and to ensure more trees are going into the ground right now. We also need to ensure we are replanting our forests after they are harvested. That will give businesses like ours confidence to keep investing.

"Forestry in Scotland is currently a great success story - so let's to keep it that way. A sustainable timber supply creates long-term investment, which is good for the economy and jobs, good for the environment - and good for Scotland."

Confor has already campaigned successfully in a number of areas: securing a fair balance of grants for planting commercial and non-commercial woodland; speeding up applications for new planting; securing additional Scottish Government funding for new planting; and ensuring existing woodlands removed in the event of disease or for wind farms are re-planted elsewhere.

But Mr Bruce Jones said there was still much to do: "We have to commit to keep planting - it's a simple as that. The industry is in great shape but a failure to act now means that by the time the problem is staring us in the face, it is too late."

The report, the ‘50-Year Forecast of Softwood Availability', is part of the National Forest Inventory. (NFI) It can be downloaded from the Forestry Commission website:

While softwood is one thing, as far as forestry and timber is concerned, what we must look at much more, however, in the UK, and elsewhere, is to bring broadleaved hardwood production back into our woods and forests and especially the practice of coppicing.

But, then again, the Forestry Commission was never designed and created to do that. Its job was the creation, originally, of timber for pits and the war effort and not much seems to have changed in their way of thinking, as softwood is still the main concentration point for their work, it would seem.

Softwood, though not in the regimented plantations either, is fine and good on grounds where other trees may not grow too well but a good mix must be created rather than the monocultures that not only look ugly and are almost devoid of life on the forest floor but which also are susceptible to all manner of diseases.

What forestry and woodland management needs in Britain, including Scotland, is a serious rethink and a new way of doing things which, in fact, is not a new way but a very old one.

© 2014