THE forestry sector has welcomed Mairi Gougeon as new Cabinet Secretary, while praising Fergus Ewing’s “powerful legacy”.

Fergus Ewing MSP has been praised for his deep understanding of the value of forestry and wood to Scotland's economy and environment as he leaves ministerial office after 14 years.

Confor, which represents 1,500 forestry and wood-using businesses, also welcomed Mairi Gougeon MSP as Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands.

Stuart Goodall, CEO of Confor, said: “We’re sad to see Fergus Ewing go, but we are pleased that Rural Affairs retains Cabinet Secretary status – and that Mairi Gougeon has knowledge of the area as she was deputy to Fergus Ewing and Roseanna Cunningham for part of the last parliament.”

When she visited the large Jerah planting site in central Scotland in 2019, at Confor's invitation, Mairi Gougeon said: "It’s a great example of multi-purpose forestry that we want to see for the future, delivering woodland creation, carbon sequestration, timber production, recreation and flood management – all on a landscape scale."

As Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity (later Rural Economy and Tourism), Fergus Ewing set up the Mackinnon Review in 2016, to look at the barriers to creating new woodland in Scotland – and led on the full devolution of forestry policy to Scotland.

He also delivered the Scottish Forestry Strategy in 2019, a blueprint through to 2029 which has all-party support.

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Only 4,500 ha of new woodland was being created annually when Mr Ewing took office, but this rose to 11,000 ha in both 2018–19 and 2019–20. It is expected the 12,000-ha target could be hit for 2020–21 when new figures are published in June – and the 15,000-ha annual planting target by 2024–25 was last year increased to 18,000 ha on the back of Scotland’s success.

"Fergus Ewing leaves a powerful legacy – a new generation of modern, mixed-species and multi-purpose forests across Scotland and new-found confidence in the sector that government ambition can be turned into trees and jobs on the ground," said Mr Goodall.

"He recognised new planting would deliver long-term economic and environmental benefits and linked up rural economy and climate change policy very effectively. He also worked closely with our industry, to better understand those businesses helping to provide more than 25,000 jobs across Scotland.

"Increased planting has given confidence to Scotland's wood processing industry to invest many tens of millions of pounds in their sites – because they can see a long-term timber supply, and this will in turn create many more jobs in the wider sector."

Mr Goodall said Mr Ewing had also understood farming and forestry were complementary and needed to work together effectively for the good of the wider rural economy.

He concluded: "He leaves behind an industry with real momentum – and cross-party support – we look forward to working with Mairi Gougeon to ensure that the momentum continues, so Scotland can continue to reap the environmental and economic benefits of mixed, modern forests and increasing use of Scottish wood."

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