20 Dec 2023

19th Dec 2023 draft budget - Woodland Creation

Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon wrote an article for Forestry Journal magazine to explain the 19th Dec Budget announcement and woodland creation in Scotland. The full text is as follows.

Last week’s Woodland Creation Summit was a hugely positive event, with enthusiasm and expertise in evidence throughout the day.  

I welcomed the opportunity to meet so many different people within the sector and to hear directly their thoughts on the opportunities and barriers to woodland creation.  

And early in the New Year, I will be meeting with Scottish Forestry to start work on a route map to capitalise on the summit’s findings.

But I also had to make clear to everyone attending the summit, that the Scottish Government was facing one of the most challenging Budget settlements since devolution.  Of particular issue for the rural affairs portfolio and for sectors like forestry, is the UK Government’s decision to cut the capital allocation by over 10%.

At the same time, we are all still experiencing high inflation following the mini budget and of course Brexit, which continues to harm Scotland’s rural industries.

All of this has resulted in very tough decisions being made in where precious capital resource goes.  I want the sector to know that I have robustly made the case for rural affairs, but I am aware that might mean a hospital or a school not getting built or refurbished.  And ultimately, this Scottish Government and Cabinet agrees collectively what the budget will be and supports that collective decision making. The cut in allocation for woodland creation is not where any of us wanted to be, but now we must make the most of it.  

We should not forget that forestry is in a good place in Scotland, especially compared to other parts of the UK.  Only last week I joined with the sector to announce the highest number of approvals this century – with 13,111 hectares now approved so far, and more expected.

We all now need to focus on turning approvals into plantings before the end of the year and that will be the priority for Scottish Forestry in the next few months, to support that activity.

Readers of Forestry Journal will also be aware that there have been a range of improvements made recently to the Forestry Grant Scheme, including work to boost riparian planting, agroforestry, rainforest conservation and an overall 20% increase to help with inflation, especially for smaller scale schemes.

All these new measures will continue as planned, giving support to woodland owners, especially those wanting to establish smaller schemes, but we will keep things under review.  It will be important to ensure that we make the funding we have this and in future years, go as far as possible in helping to meet planting targets.    

In total we have £45.3 million of support through the Forestry Grant Scheme in 24/25. For woodland creation alone, we are committing £39.2 million to help expand new forests and woodlands. 

This funding support is unlikely to allow us to reach next year’s target, but it will still help create over 9,000 ha of new woodland. 

Putting this in context, it will still allow Scotland to create more woodland than the rest of the UK combined.  And that benefits everyone in the UK, not just in Scotland.

This funding commitment will also provide some stability for the sector at a time when public spending is enormously tight.

I have asked Scottish Forestry to carefully assess the implications of the draft Budget to maximise every ounce of effort possible into supporting woodland creation.

They will be engaging with key stakeholders over the budget in due course to work out how to maximise the benefits for the economy, people and nature from the funding that is now available.

We have not shied away from taking very difficult decisions which are designed to protect Scotland’s critical public services, which we all depend and rely on.   

The draft budget is being allocated towards those most in need to help support them through the cost of living crisis and to keep vital public services going.

Every portfolio has had to make these very hard choices and the budget for woodland creation is no exception. But these choices are a result of being at the mercy of a Westminster government.   

We are a £1 billion industry that is tackling climate change and restoring nature. The message I received loud and clear at the summit is that the industry is ready and eager to contribute to Scotland’s Net Zero targets. We all know the hugely positive contribution forestry makes to our environment, but also to our economic and social wellbeing, especially in rural areas. 

That contribution can only continue in the future with sufficient funding – I would welcome the sector’s support in continuing to make the case to the UK Government so that Scotland gets the budget we need and deserve to support our ambitions for woodland creation.