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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FORESTRY has taken a fair kicking north of the border recently. 

No sooner had the Scottish Government confirmed a £32 million cut to the woodland creation budget than it was suggested that commercial coniferous plantations should lose access to public money

Academics at the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) said the tens of millions of pounds in subsidies given to the timber industry should instead be spent on "longer-living native forests", which, their report argued, have greater and clearer climate and biodiversity benefits. 

The result of an inquiry launched in October 2022, the document also concluded the Scottish and UK governments are wrong to claim that public subsidies are needed to help plant more, larger conifer forests.

That sound you hear is probably Scotland's foresters falling off their chairs. In a week in which ministers had made abundantly clear how they view the sector, that Simpsons meme came to mind ("Stop, stop, he's already dead"), only instead of the Krusty Burglar, it's this industry that's taking one hell of a beating. An industry – let's not forget – that supports tens of thousands of jobs and injects hundreds of millions of pounds into the UK's economy. 

Forestry Journal: Forestry supports thousands of jobs across rural Scotland and beyond Forestry supports thousands of jobs across rural Scotland and beyond (Image: Getty/stock)

The general reaction from the sector has been one of bemusement, albeit some (such as Andy Wightman) have argued that forestry "needs to have a proper conversation about subsidies and tax breaks". 

Jon Lambert said he was "appalled by the report", adding: “The statement, ‘the right tree in the right place’, is absolutely correct but that does not mean there is no place for commercial plantations. There are many areas in Scotland which would be greatly enhanced by both attractive broadleaves and commercial conifers. It is about balancing various needs." 

Confor, which submitted one of 45 public responses to the RSE, said in a statement: “Simply relying on ever-increasing imports and exporting our environmental footprint is the logical outcome of the RSE’s report." 

Forestry Journal: Jon Lambert, centre, said he was appalled by the reportJon Lambert, centre, said he was appalled by the report

In the interest of fairness, the idea of increasing Scotland's (and the wider UK's) hardwood production isn't too outlandish . Putting to one side the obvious issues – be they grey squirrels or time – there are businesses proving that broadleaved timber can be part of a sustainable business model, such as Logie Timber near Inverness. 

Even Confor's Stuart Goodall has remarked previously: "There is definitely a very strong political desire to see the recovery of hardwood markets. The problem is we want to create good-quality timber and not just firewood." 

One of the report's authors, Professor Des Thompson, went so far as to suggesting there is "untapped potential for job creation" by shifting the forestry sector's model. 

Whatever your views on the RSE's report, it has certainly started a conversation; and maybe that's no bad thing. If only we could have it without portraying conifers as the Devil incarnate.