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RHASS Blog: David Lee, Seeing the wood and the trees

RHASS talks to David Lee, Communications Adviser to Scotland's Finest Woods Awards, to discuss Scotland’s relationship with woodland and forestry and its role in future land management.

Scots love their woods and forests. In a 2017 Forestry Commission survey, 95 per cent of people gave at least one reason why the public purse should be used to plant trees.

But what makes a forest so fine or wood so wonderful? That’s what Scotland’s Finest Woods Awards aims to find out - and this year, RHASS has joined the party by supporting a new Farm Woodland Award.

The winner will receive the Lilburn Trophy, gifted by the RHASS, and £1,000 in prize money - as long as it can show that farm woodland is being used in a “sustainable and potentially enterprising way with responsible management providing direct farming benefits”.

Farm woodland is a big issue as we grapple with the future of rural policy and funding after Brexit. There is much more positive dialogue around integration of land use and a definite shift away from polarised positions of farm versus forestry, or sheep versus trees.

This integration is likely to gather pace as more farmers and landowners seek to diversify and future-proof their business. For some, small shelter-belts for livestock are the limit of their woodland ambition; others plan larger-scale woodland creation, perhaps to provide woodfuel or to deliver a timber cash crop in the longer term.

For multi-generation farming families, there is often a deep-seated feeling that they simply do not want to plant trees. Conservative MSP Peter Chapman, a lifelong farmer, has urged a shift away from this mindset. He says tree planting should be seen as a potential asset for farmers, a means to diversify the business and make it more sustainable in the long term – not a failure of the business model.

The forestry sector has worked hard with environmental organisations in recent decades to draw up modern standards for woodland creation, with a mix of species, greater landscape value and an emphasis on biodiversity. At the same time, larger-scale forests are delivering timber to wood processors to provide household products like kitchen units, fencing and decking.

The UK’s largest modern forest, on a former hill sheep farm at Jerah in the hills above Menstrie in Clackmannanshire, won the SFWA Quality Timber Award in 2017. The planting at Jerah has already made a significant impact on reducing flood risks in an area which has suffered badly in the past, as well as encouraging black grouse back to the area. And the carbon impact of growing the trees, and ultimately storing the carbon in wood products, will be highly significant.

When Michael Gove is asking for environmental benefits in return for future funding, forestry and woods have much to offer.

However, those woods and forests must be fine. In the SFWA’s new Native Woodlands Category last year, joint winner Carrifran Wild Wood, near Moffat, was hailed as a “beacon of hope” for woodland restoration in the Uplands. The winner of the Large Community Woodlands Category was Airor Common Grazings in Knoydart. The Awards are truly a broad church.

To find out more and to download an entry form, go to‪ sfwa.co.uk/awards-2018‬‬

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