The Royal Society of Edinburgh is pleased to respond to the Office of Science and Technology’s consultation on the Foresight for Agriculture, Horticulture & Forestry report on Forestry and Wood Products. The RSE is Scotland’s premier Learned Society, comprising Fellows elected on the basis of their distinction, from the full range of academic disciplines, and from industry, commerce and the professions. This response has been compiled with the assistance of a number of Fellows from a variety of disciplines with direct experience of forestry.
Overall, the report shares much of its substance with the Panel's discussion paper "A Review of the role of Agriculture, Horticulture & Forestry in the UK Economy" by John Marsh published in 1997, and both documents are balanced and clear reviews. Forestry is a much more significant industry in Scotland than in England and Wales, and this report is timely given that forestry will be one of the activities devolved to the new Scottish Parliament. Because of the significant differences between forestry in Scotland, England, Wales and N.Ireland, it would be useful for comments and figures to be provided on a regional basis, for example, while less than 10% of England is under woodland, the figure is around 15% for Scotland. In addition, the substantial increase in timber production over the last 20 years has come largely from Scotland, bringing with it big opportunities as well as quality problems. This timber production is expected to peak in 2015, with the provision of a further 14 million m3, however the need for the continued maintenance of supply through further planting, mainly in Scotland, is not fully recognised.
The document refers to the need for forests and woodlands to be increasingly managed to deliver multiple and sustainable benefits. In this respect, mention could be made of the potential, and possibilities for further research, for integrating woodlands and forests with pasture utilization by farm animals, such as cattle and sheep, and possibly deer. There are also excellent examples of small woodlands within farmland producing valuable timber in a sustainable fashion.
Further comments on the different sections of the report follow:
Background to the sector (p.1-6)
UK forestry – a changing scene
The report notes that there has been a steady expansion of broadleaved plantation. It should be recognised, however, that this has often been undertaken for amenity purposes, rather than as a viable forest enterprise. Schemes which extend over longer periods (currently only 5 years), and better support for woodland maintenance are needed. The proposal by the Forestry Commission for long term plans are supported in principle, but such plans are still to be agreed and implemented.
The place of conifers, particularly in Scotland, is broadly recognised and their value for timber production understood, as well as their contribution to landscape and wildlife. The suggested UK forestry expansion of 20,000 ha (about 2.5% per annum) is noted. Conifer planting of 11,000 ha per annum primarily in Scotland is required to maintain timber flow after 2015 (HGTAC)
Sustainability and landscape
Under current Kyoto 1997 treaty obligations, the targets for the reduced emissions of greenhouse gases for the UK is 12% below the 1990 figure of 158 million tonnes of carbon per annum. Forests can contribute to this reduction as specified in Article 3.3 of the Protocol, and this contribution has a monetary value. An average plantation of Sitka spruce is likely to be removing about 3 tonnes of carbon per ha from the atmosphere each year. In addition to its timber, landscape and recreation value, the capability to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere can be traded at a current market value of between £10-20 per tonne of carbon.
More could be made of the role of forestry in rural development. There is now much discussion of rural development and of developing community involvement in, and even control of, assets such as local forests. This control includes the benefits of tourism, and associated industries, of such forests. Understanding of the likely consequences of such developments is currently poor and policy makers would benefit from further guidance from increased and properly directed socio-economic research.
Key Drivers (p.6-7)
Markets for timber
While the production of coniferous timber is increasing rapidly and will double in volume over the next two decades, this section wrongly implies that it will be hard to find a profitable market for all home grown timber. The market is already there for better quality timber but the problem is to find a satisfactory market for poor quality timber. Here techniques such as glue-lamination or other means of producing quality products from low quality material are needed, and there is a real opportunity for research-led developments. Another important example is the use of small quantities of timber, often broadleaf timber, from the many small woodlands that characterise much of southern and central England (and lowland Scotland). Essentially, this timber will be difficult to utilise economically unless innovative processing and marketing can be developed. Similarly, the lowest quality broadleaf timber is capable of being converted into charcoal for domestic barbecues, a market recently supplied almost entirely from the destructive exploitation of tropical forests. Such improved utilization management of British woodlands would contribute to our meeting the letter andspirit of the Rio-de-Janeiro and Helsinki Accords of 1990 and 1993, with their commitments to the sustainable management of our forests and the maintenance or enhancement of biodiversity
On sustainability, it is worth noting that the disposal of sewage sludge in forests still requires caution with regard to the consequences for human health of water supplies derived from watercourses passing through or near treated forests, and to the long term effects on factors such as mineral balance and heavy metal pollution in forest soils. Nevertheless, it is clear that the disposal of sewage sludge on woodlands appears substantially preferable to its use on either arable or pastoral farmland.
In terms of reversing the trend for substitution of wood in construction, this will need the active promotion of wood and wood products, rather than reliance on the recognition of its product life-cycle energy requirement benefits.
Landscape, recreation and conservation
Forestry has considerable environmental importance and this topic is covered in the report, but more could be done in the management of native woodland. In the 1990’s there has been a number of actions associated with the restoration of native woodlands and as a result a large number of private nurseries have come into being over the last ten years, providing planting stock of native species of local provenances. Whilst economically of rather small importance at the present time, these developments demonstrate a major change in the culture of land management in the countryside. In this context there is a place for both conifers and broadleaf trees, with a need (referred to earlier) to increase conifer planting. High quality trees on special sites can also produce high value material from small areas – and this should not be overlooked.
Changes in the Common Agricultural Policy could provide new opportunities for growing trees. A redirected farm woodland premium scheme could provide support and encouragement.
The reference in the report to increased employment in the craft industry is somewhat exaggerated and seems to overlook the increase in the volume of timber production over the next few years. This is especially so in Scotland where Jaakko Poyry points to new jobs in timber harvesting and processing. The future of timber processing also lies in adding to the value added chain, moving on from plain timber to timber products.
Science Opportunities (p.8-9)
Genetics and tree physiology
Research should not overlook the substantial gains to be made by traditional selection and breeding techniques. However, we entirely agree with the points made in the paragraphs on page 8 and on the need for gene mapping of commercial species as a basis for future improvement. Also, with current public concern about all aspects of genetic modification, care will need to be taken to ensure public acceptance of genetic modification of trees.
Economic and social issues
As noted above, there could be a greater focus on the role of forestry in rural development. On the issue of potential trade-offs between trees for timber or forests for fun, the balance between the value of wood products and the forest’s recreational potential will to a large extent be determined by what people are prepared to pay, directly and indirectly, for each of these products. Good woodland management will involve financial expenditure if the multi-purpose public benefits are to be realised. Woods planted "for fun" could, if planted injudiciously, deteriorate and fail to provide benefits. The key is the multiple roles for forestry including timber production, environmental enhancement, and leisure provision.
Skills in forestry research
Attention is rightly directed to the supply of manpower for the research needs of the future. In the UK today, there are approximately 100 graduates each year in Forestry, Forest Science, Wood Science, Agroforestry and related areas. Of this number, approximately 15% are likely to be good enough and keen enough to engage in research. However, very many fewer actually do so because of lack of financial support, and sponsors, for postgraduate training. This will not be rectified withoutspecific intervention and the provision of essential funding.
Conclusions and Recommendations (p.12-13)
The recommendation for a national strategy for research is a key concept of the report. While the emphasis on the different priorities within the strategy will vary in Scotland, England, Wales and N. Ireland, there will be common problems, and it will be important that key research is co-ordinated on a national basis.
Given the recommendation on the multiple use of forests with high social and biodiversity value as well as economic value, there are potential conflicts with the specific target of 'greatly reduced generation times for commercial tree varieties'. It is important to identify all probable areas of potential conflict and to plan development programmes in such a way that these problems are evaluated and minimised whenever possible.
HGTAC (1998) The Future for Forestry – a framework for Forestry in Great Britain
Jaakko Poyry (1998) "Future Development Prospects for British Grown Softwoods" Jakko Poyry Consulting UK ltd, London (17/9/98)
Further information is available from the Research Officer, Dr Marc Rands