It’s Time to Talk about Woodland Creation

A blog by Assistant Forest Manager Dan Wilson, Central Borders

It’s good to see Luke Cross tackling the political climate in his blog last week. It’s a busy time for the government who seem overwhelmingly preoccupied with ‘getting Brexit done.’ Forestry is a breath of fresh air in this regard. “Forestry is a long-term business” summarises Fergus Ewing MSP meaning we can take a step back from the current turmoil and view things long term without getting too caught up. As a foreman once told me: “Take it easy Dan, the trees aren’t going anywhere fast.”

However, there’s always a ‘but’. The UK’s forested areas are embarrassingly low when compared to the rest of Europe; England’s land usage for forestry currently stands at 10% with Germany’s coverage at 33% and Finland’s as high as 75%. These figures are problematic, especially in light of the aforementioned political climate wherein the UK may find itself with increased import taxes.

It is a surprising fact to some that without human intervention Scotland’s topography would largely be one massive wild wood. Over the past 6000 years the demand of a growing population, moves to agrarian societies and the need to fuel not only the industrial revolution but also the first world war has seen mass deforestation of the country to the point where 100 years ago just 5% of Scotland’s land could be classified as forest. Since then it has been the work of the Forestry Commission (now Scottish Forestry) to oversee a growth to the current 18.5% forest cover.

Ambitious targets have been set by government to remain competitive and sustainable in terms of timber supply; ’maintaining and investing in forests and woodlands must become a shared national endeavour‘ as well as emphatically calling for ’better integration of forestry with other land uses and businesses.’(Fergus Ewing MSP, Foreword to Scotland’s Forest Strategy 2019-2029).

The creation of new woodland is one of the most exciting things I get to be involved in with Tilhill Forestry. We undertake various types of work, all of which provide unique challenges and opportunities. From a mighty 560 ha productive conifer to a 360ha woodland restoration project an effort on the owner’s behalf to create a community woodland in the hills; each is immensely interesting to see come together and more importantly grow!

A ground preparation and planting contract in the Scottish Borders that I have been involved with for the past few months is no stranger to trees however. There are existing shelterbelts, riparian zones as well as several commercial stands of brilliantly managed conifers.

The owner has recognised the benefit in further diversifying the portfolio of the estate and investing in the future of his property. The woodland creation encompasses wide broadleaf belts around the perimeter of his land in the interest of biosecurity for his premium Aberdeen Angus stock but also further productive conifer stands planted at a time to vary ages with existing stands which will ensure more continuous cash flow into the Estate.

There’s an immense feeling of satisfaction to be a part of the effort to create more woodland and I see this type of project as a brilliant microcosm of the wider effort. There is a balance to be struck between biodiversity and commercial schemes. By ensuring adherence to the Forest Standard we are quite literally creating the forests of the future and diversifying the usage of land. Where more overall land is designated to forestry of all guises there is a place for all types of woodland creation.