THE chief of an investment fund behind a 700-hectare plantation in the Scottish Borders has told of his "frustration" after opponents were granted permission to challenge the plan in court. 

Scottish Forestry officials will have to prove they followed environmental regulations at the predominantly Sitka spruce woodland at the John Buchan Way, near Peebles. 

It comes after the Edinburgh Court of Session approved a petition from campaigners at the Stobo Residents Action Group (SRAG), which has challenged the development "over concerns for the environment". 

Planting is already underway at the Stobo Hope woodland site, with forestry bosses telling of its importance in providing home-grown, sustainable timber. More than 80 per cent of wood used in the UK comes from abroad. 

Scottish Forestry awarded the contract to the Forestry Carbon Sequestration Fund, managed by the Guernsey-based investment company True North. 

Harry Humble, CEO of True North, said: “It is frustrating that this has come to court, after three years of public consultation, at what will be further cost for the taxpayer. 

“We have gone through an extensive, diligent and responsible design and consultation process in conjunction with Scottish Forestry and all other stakeholders to deliver the design for the Stobo Woodland Creation Project, in compliance with the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Regulations.”  

Among other issues, SRAG campaigners have accused the plantation of having a detrimental impact on the site's black grouse population.

The legal action concerns a planting near the John Buchan WayThe legal action concerns a planting near the John Buchan Way (Image: NQ/Stock)

In response, Harry said: "The design of this scheme is both environmentally and ecologically sound, from a third of the site being retained as open space and 130 ha planted with native trees to 140 ha planned specifically to favour black grouse."

Harry added: “We held four public consultations but the individuals behind SRAG did not engage with the design stage of the forest in any way, only raising an objection at the last possible moment during the 28-day mandatory consultation period after Scottish Forestry gave their approval.

“I have every confidence that the judicial review will find Scottish Forestry acted in an exemplary fashion and in compliance with the EIA regulations.”

SRAG has also taken issue with herbicide use - however, this is approved by the Health and Safety Executive and not SF. 

A statement from SRAG read: "The Stobo Hope woodland creation scheme will contribute to the continued landscape scale losses of semi-natural upland habitats across Southern Scotland which are leading to the decline in black grouse and other emblematic upland species including curlew and ring ouzel.

"These losses occur through the replacement of moorlands with commercial coniferous forest, and the loss of suitable grazing in open areas.

"Herbicide application at Stobo Hope has accelerated this destruction, destroying cover and nesting sites for black grouse, increasing predation pressure and removing food sources, particularly for young grouse that rely on invertebrates."

A Scottish Forestry spokesperson said: “There are judicial review proceedings raised on the woodland creation scheme at the Stobo Estate and therefore it would not be appropriate to offer comment on ongoing litigation or any of the forestry operations being carried out by the site’s landowner or contractors.

“In general terms, very low levels of herbicides are used within forestry in the UK compared to other land uses.

"Approved herbicides are typically used in woodland creation to help control competing vegetation and assist with the establishment of young trees.

“All herbicides for use in forestry must be approved by the Health & Safety Executive. It would be up to the land manager to ensure that they use an approved herbicide and in line with the method and application rate described on the product label. Scottish Forestry is not responsible for approving herbicide use.”

Full details on the court proceedings will be confirmed at a later date.