Victor Clements here reviews and analyses the currently improving situation

The Forestry Commission recently released tree planting statistics for 2013, and things are improving. 7,400 ha of new woodlands were planted in Scotland through SRDP during the calendar year, with a further 300 ha under legacy schemes.
Another 1000 ha is likely to have been planted by Forest Enterprise. This is still short of the 10,000 ha per year target, but after four years of SRDP, we are now getting within spitting distance of this. The figure for 2012 had been approx 4,500 ha, so there has been a considerable leap forwards.

Woodland Type                                                Conifers                     Broadleaves                     Total
Productive conifer (low cost)                                  1395                                 73                       1468
Productive conifer (high cost)                                  150                                 10                        160
Productive broadleaves                                               0                                  36                         36
Native woods (planting)                                           788                           4,464                     5,252
Native Woods (Regeneration)                                     0                                   4                           4
Mixed conifers/ broadleaves                                    162                               244                       406
_____________________________________________________________________________________
Total SRDP                                                          2,495                           4,904                             7,399

Two figures jump out from within the stats. Firstly, native woods and other broadleaved trees represent 73% of the total trees planted, as has been the case in previous years. ScotGov are still having problems persuading people to plant conifers. This is partly a reflection of the higher grant rates, but largely because people are now generally persuaded of the merits and versatility of having native and mixed woods on their property. They achieve a wider range of objectives and leave more options open for the future.
Secondly, regeneration schemes, fenced or unfenced, have virtually disappeared, recording only four hectares in the whole country. Again, this is partly because of the lower grant rates, but mainly because the SRDP rules are too prescriptive, requiring particular results in particular locations in a certain year or you risk losing your money. People are still advised to avoid this option. It is too risky.
The very small area of productive broadleaves being grown at 36 hectares will be a disappointment to all those who want to see good quality timber trees grown at close spacing. The grants for this option are high, but alas, the costs are too.
A few other figures are off note from elsewhere within the published data. The average cost of tree planting, before annual farm premium payments, is £4600 per ha overall, or £4900 for the native woodland planting. This is a huge amount of money. Of grant-aided restocking, only 282 ha was recorded in the country, with 86% of this being with native broadleaves and the remainder with mixed broadleaves. Just over 1900 ha was restructured through regeneration, with 73% of this again being with native broadleaves. So, with both new woodland creation and restocking of existing woods, conifers are struggling to make any significant impact.
Total expenditure on forestry over the year was just over £31 million.

A Forty Year Historical Perspective
7,400 ha seems like a lot, but how does it compare in a wider context? The graph below shows woodland planting in Scotland over forty years. In the early 1970s, there was about 32,000 ha a year being planted. This had fallen to about 20,000 in 1980, increasing to 25,000 ha again by the end of the decade. Tax incentives were removed in 1988, resulting in a fall to about 12,000 ha. The area dipped below 10,000 at the start of this century, falling to a low of about 2,000 ha in 2009.
These very poor figures in recent years have been largely due to uncertainty and frustrations with grant schemes but, if recent improvements can be maintained, we should shortly be back up to 2000 levels. ScotGov wants to retain these for a ten year period through to 2022, giving us 19% woodland cover overall. We need to be wary, however, that the change to a new round of SRDP does not re-introduce uncertainty and throw us off course again. There is nothing like changes to grant schemes or tax incentives to drive down woodland planting activity and enthusiasm.
Another significant change over the forty years is the changing contribution made by the Forestry Commission and private owners. Up to the early 1980s, FC planted most new woodland, but its contribution fell steadily until 1997, and was negligible through to 2009 when modest funds were again made available to it for woodland expansion on the National Forest Estate. Funds came from selling off remote or excess woodland blocks. It is the private sector which is now being relied upon to plant trees, but the modest rise in FC planting again does provide an alternative model for comparison, and that is useful. Most of its recent planting is done through its land leasing scheme.

Woodland creation chartWeb

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The other big change of the forty years has been the change in relative proportions of conifers and broadleaves. From 1970 through to 1987, virtually all trees planted in Scotland were conifers. This changed in 1987 when a grant scheme was introduced specifically encouraging broadleaved trees. This co-incided with a renewed interest in, and appreciation of, these species. The area of broadleaves steadily increased as that of conifers declined and, since 2000, it is broadleaves that comprise the greatest area of new planting in the country, now standing at over 70%.
 
Conifer Broadleaf plantingWeb

 The final graph, below illustrates that these broadleaved trees have been planted almost exclusively on private land, although the Forestry Commission itself is now planting about 500 ha each year.

Broadleaved plantingWeb

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Victor Clements is a woodland advisor working in Highland Perthshire

 

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