Minister sees wide benefits of modern forestry

A Scottish Government minister has today seen at first hand how large-scale tree planting is helping to protect communities from flooding – as part of a range of environmental and economic benefits delivered by modern forests in Scotland.

Mairi Gougeon MSP, Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment, visited Jerah – planted on a large, hilly site in Clackmannanshire – to hear how trees were carefully placed to protect the village of Menstrie, which was badly affected by flooding in 2004 and 2012. The Minister also visited a neighbouring planting site, close to the site of the 1715 Battle of Sheriffmuir.

Mairi Gougeon, who was accompanied by Confor CEO Stuart Goodall and Andrew Vaughan of forest managers Tilhill Forestry, said: “Jerah Forest is one of Scotland’s largest newly planted productive woodlands. It’s a great example of multi-purpose forestry that we want to see for the future, delivering woodland creation, carbon sequestration, timber production, recreation and flood management – all on a landscape scale.”

During the creation of Jerah, 1.3 million trees – including 16 different conifer and broadleaf species – were planted in early 2015.  The process involved significant engagement with archaeologists to preserve historically important buildings on the site and enhanced public access for walkers, fell runners and paragliders.

 Although timber production is the primary long-term aim of Jerah, it also applies the objectives of the Scottish Forestry Strategy to secure other benefits – including flood risk mitigation, peatland restoration, public access and habitats for birds.

The woodland is only just establishing, but already a pair of short-eared owls have nested on the site, black grouse are using the upper margins, and red kites, kestrels and buzzards are frequent visitors.

The multi-purpose benefits provided by Jerah have been recognised with awards for its careful balance of delivering for the environment, economy and community.

Two PhD studies are underway by Heriot Watt University to examine the risk of water run-off from different types of planting and to record the impact on Menstrie below. The aim is to learn more about appropriate soil cultivation and the role of woody debris in natural flood management in a flood-prone area – and to learn lessons for planting future forests.

Mairi Gougeon added: “This is an exciting time for forestry in Scotland. On 1 April, new fully devolved arrangements will come into place, including two new forestry agencies that will play a significant role in taking forward the Scottish Government’s ambitions and priorities including delivery of Scotland’s new Forestry Strategy.

“Key to building on our hugely successful forestry sector is the close working relationship between government and all our stakeholders involved in land management – Jerah showcases this approach.”

Stuart Goodall, Chief Executive of Confor, which organised the Minister’s visit, said: “Modern forestry is providing so many solutions to the challenges facing modern Scottish society it’s hard to know where to begin – responding to climate change, creating green jobs, farm diversification and much more.

“Jerah is a canvas on which we can see young trees painting a picture of integrated business and environment, protecting local jobs as well as protecting local people from flooding.

“There is a growing body of evidence that planting new forests holds back heavy rainfall and helps to intercept water before entering streams and ultimately flowing down-river to communities like Menstrie. The flood monitoring work being undertaken at Jerah should further enhance our knowledge of the considerable benefits from modern multi-purpose forests to the benefit of other threatened communities.”

The Minister also saw a new path linking the MacRae Monument and The Gathering Stone, both important features of the Sheriffmuir battlefield landscape, to connect to the network of paths leading to Dunblane.

“The woodland creation area lies at the edge of the Sheriffmuir Battlefield site and was subject to intense consultation and modification before it was approved in 2017 and planted in 2018,” said Andrew Vaughan, District Manager of Tilhill Forestry, which manages the site. Additional funding was secured from Forestry Commission Scotland through the Woodlands In and Around Towns (WIAT) programme.

The collaboration between Sheriffmuir and Jerah means that off-road public access has been secured from Dunblane to Menstrie, a distance of seven miles.