Speech: Members’ Business Debate- Scottish Woodlot Association (October 30th)

I, too, congratulate Aileen McLeod on bringing the debate to the chamber. I am pleased to speak about woodlot licences and family forestry in Scotland, both of which I support because of their potential value to Scotland’s rural economy through job creation and forest management. As a member with a keen interest in woodland crofting, I understand the need for woodlot licensing and support it fully. Like Alex Fergusson, I wish that I had thought of the idea myself. I believe that a diverse forestry sector could come as a result of the licences and family forestry, and we should recognise the merits of both.

I will speak generally about the potential benefits of the licences but, before I do so, I express my delight at the awarding of Scotland’s first woodlot licence in August for land on the Corsewall estate, near Stranraer. I am delighted by all that I have read about Mark Rowe and Angus Carrick-Buchanan and their agreement to have a fantastic management plan for 37 hectares on that estate. The plan allows Mr Rowe to engage in the felling and abstraction of timber, which he will then be allowed to process and sell as firewood and sawn timber. In return, Mr Rowe will pay an annual rental for the woodlot to Mr Carrick-Buchanan.

That is a good method of managing land and, as Mr Carrick-Buchanan said,

“This pilot project with the Scottish Woodlot Association sets out to prove that the woodlot licence holder, the woodland owner, the environment and the local economy can all win.”

Woodlot licences will be important because they will potentially link local people, land management professionals, forest owners, timber processors and buyers in a co-operative working arrangement, which will provide benefits to existing forest owners and rural communities alike. Woodlot licences could provide the means to create many new jobs in the rural economy and could encourage people to live and work in rural areas.

In British Columbia, where woodlot licensing was pioneered, 12,000 people make all or part of their living from woodlot licences. I am sure that members will agree that that is an impressive statistic. It is rightly acknowledged that woodlot licences will bring undermanaged woodland into production, which will lead to more forest management activity than at present. That will involve the input of new machinery and existing and new contractors and will open up new supply chains. Woodlot licences also have the potential to produce thousands of tonnes of wood that could be used locally as firewood or for small-scale log processing or fed into supply chains for large-scale timber processors and renewable energy generators.

Family forestry is another aspect of any debate about woodlot licences. Woodlot licences can connect many more young families to the resourceful land that we have. Families have been squeezed out of land leasing because most land use is dominated by large-scale industrial agriculture and industrial forestry and because the price of land and forest has been rising. For example, it can cost more than £10,000 for the purchase of just one hectare of forest. Until now, forestry has not had any prospect of a mechanism for leasing land through farm rental as is the case in agriculture but, with woodlot licences, that can change. They will allow small-scale, decentralised forestry to thrive, and will act as an important stepping stone in the creation of a new woodland culture for Scotland in the 21st century.