SCOTLAND'S rural affairs secretary has once again defended the decision to cut public forestry's budget by £32 million - and claimed the government is still working to "build confidence in the sector". 

Mairi Gougeon admitted to a cross-party group of MSPs that the budget black hole faced by Scottish Forestry will result in the country failing to hit its planting targets, with the grant funding available likely to only cover half of the 18,000 hectare ambition. 

The decision, announced by deputy first minister Shona Robison just days before Christmas, has been heavily criticised by forestry figures, with Confor's Stuart Goodall saying it will only "make a bad situation worse". 

Speaking to the Rural Affairs and Islands Committee this week, Ms Gougeon was asked how forestry would be able to meet its planting targets. 

She said: "To be perfectly frank, with the level of funding, that is a target we are unable to meet, which is particularly disappointing. 

"I understand the comments of Stuart Goodall and the forestry sector. Last year, we held a forestry summit to look at some of the issues to meeting the targets. We also made a number of different changes to the Forestry Grant Scheme. 

"To be in this position with the levels of cut we are looking at, it's not a place I want to be. What's really important now is the work we do from here.

"Difficult decisions have had to be made and it is not a position I want to be in." 

Responding to Ms Gougeon, the committee convenor, Finlay Carson, suggested the government was "getting its priorities wrong" by making such a "massive cut" to the forestry budget.

Forestry Journal: Stuart Goodall, pictured right with Mairi Gougeon, said the budget cut would only make a bad situation worse Stuart Goodall, pictured right with Mairi Gougeon, said the budget cut would only make a bad situation worse (Image: Supplied)

"If we were to fully increase that budget, where do we take the capital from?" replied Ms Gouegon. "We are still responsible for around 62 per cent of all planting in the UK. We want to ensure that we still build that confidence in the sector and that future forward.

"But there is no getting around it, it is a big cut to the capital budget we have seen." 

Earlier this week, Confor and the Woodland Trust Scotland released a joint statement condemning the decision to axe forestry's budget. Announced shortly after a Woodland Creation Summit had been held to address Scotland's recent planting failures - with rates falling to their lowest levels in half a decade last year - the funding cut was seen as a body blow to the industry's ambitions. 

Stuart said: “The Scottish Government has increased its woodland creation targets annually as a key element of Scotland's commitment to be net zero by 2045, and we applaud that ambition. 

"The amount of new woodland created has fallen over each of the last five years, however. This proposed cut will only serve to make the gap between targets and delivery ever wider. A bad situation will become worse.”

"The Scottish Government must remember that warm words won’t stop climate change or restore nature," added Alastair Seaman, director at the WTS. "We need investment in new woodland – and fast – if we are to have any hope of a strong economy and a healthy landscape in the years to come.


“Creating new woodland and protecting what we’ve already got is one of the simplest and most effective responses we have to the climate and nature crises. It makes no sense to pull the rug out from under the sector in this way."

Responding to the fresh criticism earlier this week, Ms Gougeon blamed the UK government for cutting Scotland's budget, and added: "Although Scottish Forestry has a reduced budget for woodland creation, we will work with the forest industries to maximise what resources we have to support them – meetings have already taken place to look at options."