AN industry figure has rejected claims that there is no "no regulation or oversight about the private forest ownership market  in Scotland". 

Stuart Goodall, chief executive at Confor, made the comments in response to a newly-publicised report, which suggested forests are becoming increasingly dominated by wealthy estates, investors and absentee owners who live outwith the country. 

The study - Forest Ownership in Scotland 2022 - said the Scottish Government’s current land reform initiatives have failed to tip the balance of forest ownership away from wealthy individuals and organisations, leaving local residents and organisations unable to compete when land comes on the market. 

Among other points, the document claimed: 

  • There is no regulation or oversight about the private forest ownership market in Scotland;
  • The Scottish picture is in stark contrast with other European countries, where forests are mostly owned by individual residents, farmers, co-operatives, and municipalities;
  • Due to a lack of ownership transparency, it may also be difficult to track owners down. 

However, Stuart hit back at some of the report's conclusions, pointing to the fact Scottish Forestry (SF) regulates both planting and harvesting as evidence of regulation. 

He said: "The sector in Scotland faces many challenges, including a secure future supply of wood and skills shortages. The sector is heavily influenced by government regulation and intervention, not least in land management where subsidies for agriculture need to be ‘bought out’ if a new woodland is to be created.

Forestry Journal: Stuart Goodall, pictured right with rural affairs secretary Mairi Gougeon, rejected some of the report's conclusions Stuart Goodall, pictured right with rural affairs secretary Mairi Gougeon, rejected some of the report's conclusions (Image: Supplied)

"A landowner cannot create a new woodland of scale without approval from Scottish Forestry (SF); SF strongly influences what is planted and a woodland owner cannot harvest their trees without SF approval.

"SF will also influence what can be restocked, and, through the UKFS, generally influence how woodland owners will manage their woodland.

"SF is also the lead forestry agency on the Woodland Carbon Code which now restricts access to carbon credits for new productive conifer projects. Media reporting on ‘greenwashing’ and large softwood planting projects are wide of the mark."

According to the report, inequality of land ownership has increased a decade on from the last study, despite the Government’s land reform push. Just 164 people or companies own 75 per cent of forested land, analysis of four sample areas across Scotland suggests, compared to 199 owners in 2012.

By far the largest owner in these areas is Gresham House, which the Scottish National Investment Bank pledged to give £50 million for new woodland creation and forestry management.

The study – released on Monday – was written by the former MSP, land reform campaigner and forester Andy Wightman, and Jon Hollingdale, former head of the Community Woodlands Association (CWA).

Stuart added: "With the exciting role that trees and timber can play in helping to tackle climate change and achieve net zero, and the role that modern forests can play in supporting rural economies and providing places for people and wildlife the sector should be in great spirit.

Forestry Journal:  Andy Wightman helped pen the report Andy Wightman helped pen the report (Image: PA)

"Unfortunately, much of it isn’t and that reflects the reality of a sector that isn’t in charge of its own future, as well as a disjointed dialogue where policy decisions are not being made on the basis of sound analysis and evidence, and where many of the private sector contributors focus on narrow topics.

"Confor would welcome a wider dialogue that looked to the future success of all parts of the sector, and which sought to facilitate and enable people and businesses, and where the task of developing ‘solutions’ is not simply placed at the door of public bodies.”

Scottish Land and Estates, which represents landowners, including forestry and woodland owners and managers, also rejected concerns laid out by the report.


Chief executive Sarah-Jane Laing said: “Forestry is a vital land use and is an industry that makes a substantial economic and environmental contribution to rural Scotland. There is a clear diversity of ownership from community bodies to estates to farmers, but the Scottish Government remains by far the largest forestry owner with more than 400,000 hectares.  

"Forestry plays a key role in the range of activities that are undertaken by estate businesses and for the government to reach its ambitious planting targets, it requires private investment from businesses such as estates."