Forestry Journal:

This piece is an extract from our Latest from the Woods newsletter (previously Forestry Latest News), which is emailed out at 4PM every Friday with a round-up of the week's top stories. 

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EARLIER this month, Scottish Forestry officials placed restrictions on the exporting of spruce timber to Ireland from the west coast of Scotland – and they weren't shy in warning that more action could follow. 

The "preventative" move was made after it emerged the great spruce bark beetle was moving closer to an already established Pest Free Area (PFA) that stretches from Argyll and Bute all the way to the Isle of Skye's northernmost point. While Dendroctonus micans is yet to be confirmed in the PFA, SF bosses say it is "no longer possible to guarantee freedom from this beetle in all areas".

As part of a raft of new measures, a 35 km (22 mile) buffer zone will be put in place around all findings of D. micans bark beetle. A first restricted area has been set up, stretching into the PFA around Dunbartonshire and Argyll; this includes the port of Sandbank, now subject to the controls. 

Forestry Journal: Dendroctonus micans is moving closer to the PFADendroctonus micans is moving closer to the PFA (Image: Getty/stock)

But reading between the lines of the very different tone in which Scotland and Ireland announced the news, there is a sense it could have been so much worse. In the former, the point couldn't be missed that these new rules had allowed "trade to continue" between the nations. In the latter, officials told of the "great concern" Irish foresters had at the presence of Dendroctonus micans in Scotland. 

One quote from James Nott, head of tree health at Scottish Forestry, stood out. “This action will enable trade from the rest of the PFA to continue. However, if the beetles continue to spread, the longer-term prospect is for the area of the west of Scotland PFA to reduce and ultimately close.”

Forestry Journal: The Pest Free Area (PFA) stretches up Scotland's west coast The Pest Free Area (PFA) stretches up Scotland's west coast  (Image: Scottish Forestry)

Irish ministers have proven themselves capable of taking such action in the recent past. In 2022, when the large larch bark beetle, Ips cembrae, was confirmed within the PFA, exports of larch roundwood and bark from the PFA to the island of Ireland were suspended. At the time of writing, this remains in place following the discovery of several more beetles in 2023, but SF stresses that no breeding population has been established of that particular pest.

 Irish forest owners have also shown their wariness about the presence of pests, calling for "urgent action" after the discovery of Ips typographus in Scotland last year. 

Forestry Journal: Scottish Forestry's James Nott warned the PFA could be closed all togetherScottish Forestry's James Nott warned the PFA could be closed all together

The real question is just how much of an impact could this have on Scotland's forestry exports? According to 2023's Forest Statistics, there were 73 imports of roundwood into Ireland, amounting to more than 112,000 tonnes from the PFA. 

A drop in the ocean but a significant one nonetheless. Let's hope this new action has the desired effect.