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Scottish Land & Estates raise concerns over forestry proposals

Scottish Land & Estates this week submitted written evidence on the Forestry and Land Management (S) Bill, which proposes major changes to the forestry authority in Scotland and introduces a new element to compulsory purchase of land 

In our submission – which can be found in full here... we raise a number of concerns with the Bill ranging from the proposed structure of the forestry authority, to the compulsory purchase of land for sustainable development purchases, to the nature of felling and restocking provisions.   Our key points are as follows – 

1. Future structure of the forestry authority/land agency – we have a major concern with the government’s current proposals.  That is, we do not believe they will best enable the retention of forestry expertise within the public sector. We are also concerned about the extension of the role of what is currently the National Forest Estate (NFE) to include the management of other land.  There are often competing objectives for land management that it will not necessarily be easy to resolve in the best way from inside a single agency.

2. Structure of the Bill and definitions - The Bill as currently drafted is in our view poorly structured in contrast to the Forestry Act 1967 which is much more straightforward to understand.  Further definition is required in respect of key terms as too much is simply left to Ministerial discretion.  Clear definitions and/or criteria need to be provided for sustainable forest management, sustainable development and communities.  In particular where significant new powers such as compulsory purchase are proposed, the lack of clarity is of significant concern to our members. Also the definition of community bodies is loose and not consistent with that in the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 – we see no reason why it should not be consistent.

3. Business Impact - The forestry industry, as with other businesses requires security and certainty and this Bill should be viewed in the wider policy context.  Environmental as well as industry pressures, combined with agricultural land prices mean that Scotland is facing a major land use change going forward.  Large scale afforestation cannot continue apace without a proper wider plan taking into account harvesting and the roads networks for instance.  It is important that this Bill does not create barriers or negatively impact what is currently working well.  We are keen to work with the Scottish Government to ensure that this Bill is as easily understood as possible and fits with wider Scottish Government objectives.                                                                                    .    
Sustainable Development and Compulsory Purchase
4. We have concerns over the combined effect of both s.9 ‘Management of forestry land’ and s.13 “Management of land to further sustainable development”, with s.16 “Compulsory purchase of land”.  This is particularly so given that definitions of sustainable forest management and sustainable development are not given. We do not believe that the private interest in land has sufficiently been taken into account in these proposals.    There is a need to think about the impact these compulsory purchase provisions could have on the viability of the remainder of a land holding, and the impact on the business and property interests of the owner.
5. There is a question that should be explored more fully which is whether compulsory purchase of forestry land and land for sustainable development purposes is appropriate at all? We do not believe it is.  For the past 60 years, the Forestry Commission has relied on the voluntary approach to acquire land; a culture of co-operation that has worked well.  
6. Secondary Legislation - The Bill is an enabling one with much left to secondary legislation.  While we understand the general logic for enabling bills, i.e. so that provisions can more easily and responsively be updated in future, forestry is in many ways a special case.  Forestry is a very long-term investment and investors seek as much certainty and security as possible before making a commitment.  Regulation that is easily changed without the scrutiny of the primary legislation process, is therefore counter-intuitive for this particular industry.  
We are particularly concerned about a very broad provision to allow Scottish Ministers to make charges in relation to the provisions in this Bill.  Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) does not at the moment make charges and we do not believe this should change.   
7. Felling and Restocking Provisions - Given that the felling and restocking provisions in the 1967 Act have served the industry well for the last 50 years, we cannot see why they have not simply been taken over into this Bill.  The failure to do so leaves some serious omissions.
8. Registers of Scotland – we do not believe there is a need to register felling and restocking requirements, which by their nature are short-term obligations, with Registers of Scotland. 

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