SCOTLAND'S new forestry secretary has said the country has a "sector to be proud of" as she pledged to stimulate its stagnating planting rates. 

Mairi Gougeon, who assumed the role earlier this month, has said she will work with a variety of land-based industries to increase the amount of woodland created each year north of the border. 

While Scotland leads the way for planting in the UK by some distance, rates have languished in recent times to around 10,000 hectares annually. With the target set to rise to 18,000 ha by 2025, industry body Confor has already called on the Rural Affairs Secretary to get forestry "back on track" in order to avoid missing the new goal. 

READ MORE: Consultation opens on forestry grant schemes as Scotland bids to hit planting goal

“I am delighted to be taking on responsibility for forestry in Scotland again," Ms Gougeon told Forestry Journal. “We are the custodians of Scotland’s national forests and woodlands, held in trust for the nation, for the benefit of us all, now and in the future.

"I want more people to enjoy all that they have to offer, and am looking forward to getting out to more of our visitor centres this summer.

“I very much welcome the positive response from Confor in Scotland to our renewed and refreshed commitment to delivering increased levels of woodland creation, and look forward to working together to increase demand, build capacity and deliver greater economic and social benefits from our forests and woods." 

In a shake-up to Nicola Sturgeon's regime, forestry has once again been placed under a cabinet brief by First Minister Humza Yousaf, having previously been overseen by then environment minister Mairi McAllan. 

Forestry Journal: Mairi McAllan previously oversaw forestry in the country Mairi McAllan previously oversaw forestry in the country (Image: PA)

And while the sector was said to have "thrived" under Ms Sturgeon and Ms McAllan's watch, Ms Gougeon does inherit a number of issues.

As well as falling planting rates, Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) faces a £9 million deficit in its budget this year – with it reining in its woodland creation and timber production goals as a consequence – and there remains some unhappiness over felling licences; albeit this is an issue that pre-dated even Ms McAllan. 

In a bid to address planting rates, a public consultation is currently underway on the Forestry Grant Scheme, and the new forestry secretary called on all interested stakeholders to submit their opinion. 

Forestry Journal:

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“There is a great deal of work underway to help stimulate new planting on a number of fronts and with a variety of land-based sectors," she said. "Key to all this is ensuring our Forestry Grant Scheme works better for Scotland and delivers our priorities, so I am very much looking forward to seeing the results of the current public consultation and would encourage anyone with an interest to respond by May 17.  

“My key aim is to lead on delivery of our policy priorities for this vital rural industry, not least to help deliver on our climate change targets. Scotland justifiably has a sector to be proud of. I want this to continue.”