RSE report recommends significant reform to public financing of tree planting and forestry

The Royal Society of Edinburgh have today (29th February, 2024) released a report which recommends significant reforms to public financing for tree planting and forestry.

The 16 recommendations of the report are underpinned by ‘public money for public benefits’. These include the recommendations that subsidies to coniferous commercial tree planting be redirected towards the planting of long-lived native broadleaf woodland.

Of particular relevance to conservation management and habitat restoration, especially of peatlands; the tenth recommendation is that, ‘Scottish Forestry should require schemes to consider how the spread of invasive tree seed to adjoining land (especially peatland) will be prevented. It should also require appropriate steps to be taken to reduce such spread and, where necessary, impose conditions to remove seedlings when it does occur.’

A number of recommendations were made about the effectiveness of the present Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) regime. It is recommended that Scottish Forestry should require that all planting proposals of 40 ha and above, or smaller applications adjoining existing woodland, submit an EIA. Scottish Government should increase capacity in Scottish Forestry for independent scrutiny of planting applications, including an increased number of EIAs, and carry out compliance monitoring during and after planting to confirm adherence to the UK Forestry Standard and specific conditions. Scottish Forestry should consider providing guidance on the form and content of EIA submissions and should ensure that Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) pay careful attention to soil conditions.

The report argues that conifer forests, often planted as monocultures, do too little to combat climate change and deliver relatively few benefits compared with native, broadleaf woodland. Despite a poor return for the public, forestry companies and landowners receive tens of millions of pounds of public money, from both the UK and Scottish governments, in the form of subsidies and tax breaks.

While funding for forestry was cut in the most recent Scottish Budget (2024-25), this report argues that funding should instead be redirected to tree planting that is designed to provide long term carbon sequestration, biodiversity and public benefits.