New Woodland Investment Programme

Introduction

Forest Enterprise Scotland (FES) operates a New Woodland Investment Programme which is intended to increase the contribution of the national forest estate to the delivery of Scottish Government objectives.

Subject to the approval of Ministers, FES sells land and forests contributing least to delivery of public benefits and uses the proceeds to invest in projects, particularly land acquisition for woodland creation, which contribute significantly to the delivery of the Government's Scottish Forestry Strategy.

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Policy Context

Prior to 1980, very little sale of land took place.

Following a review of forestry policy in 1980, the then Conservative Government concluded that the FC should sell a proportion of its estate to meet Government objectives to expand the private forestry sector and reduce the FC's annual call on Government funding.

The Forestry Act 1981 provided Ministers with the powers to dispose, for any purpose, of land acquired for purposes connected with forestry. Between 1981 and 1997, some 73,000 ha of land and forests in Scotland were sold.

In 1997 the government introduced a policy of selling only land that did not make a significant contribution to objectives and was surplus – and ensuring that public access was safeguarded on land that was sold.

Following devolution of forestry policy responsibility to the Scottish Government in 1999, Scottish Ministers were content to continue with this policy. The first Quinquennial Review (QR) of Forest Enterprise was carried out in 2001 when it was still a single GB-wide Agency. The review suggested that the estate was too static in nature and that the current location and nature of the land and woodlands did not necessarily fit well with current forestry policy objectives.

It recommended that the FC bring forward proposals to Ministers to set up a rolling land acquisitions fund, financed by the sale of parts of the estate which have relatively low public benefits, in order to raise the social and environmental value of its estate. The recommendations of the QR were accepted by Ministers.

This issue was taken forward as part of the public consultation on the Future Role of Scotland's National Forests in 2003, after which Ministers agreed that FCS should proceed with a re-positioning approach, selling areas with low potential to deliver public benefits to invest in programmes (including land/ woodland acquisition) which would make a significant contribution to delivery of the Scottish Forestry Strategy.

The report and the Ministers' response to it were published in October 2004 and the 'repositioning programme' was initiated soon after.

In 2011 the Spending Review settlement for FCS included provision for a re-positioning programme to the value of £30M, and since then around £5M of properties have been offered to market each year, with the proceeds being reinvested in woodland creation. Continuation of repositioning was supported by the Land Reform Review Group (an independent review group established by the Scottish Government) in 2014.

In order to help meet Scotland's increasingly ambitious woodland creation targets a list of sites valued at around £10M is being notified in 2017.

Criteria for Selection of Properties for Sale or Acquisition

Disposals

To guide the selection of properties for disposal as part of the New Woodland Investment Programme, a portfolio evaluation exercise is carried out. This consists of an evaluation, through a scoring mechanism, of the value of each property in terms of its contribution to the delivery of economic, social and environmental objectives. The scoring matrix arising from this exercise is used to identify those properties which contribute least to delivery of FES and wider Government objectives, and which are therefore potential sale candidates. The environmental, social, economic, legal, technical and political implications of selling such properties are then considered, with a view to minimising the overall impacts of sales. Properties chosen for sale will typically have all or some of the following characteristics:

  • Relatively low levels of public access and use.
  • Relatively remote from significant communities and with limited or no community involvement.
  • No significant natural and cultural heritage assets that would be put at risk by sale.
  • No prominent landscape features that would be put at risk by sale.
  • Likely to be expensive to manage and/or to generate low levels of income.

Acquisitions

The main focus of the acquisition programme is bare land suitable for the planting of new woodlands. FCS will acquire existing woodlands only in circumstances where they come as an integral part of land acquired for planting or where there would be significant public benefits arising from their acquisition.

Properties acquired will typically have some or all of the following characteristics:

  • Be capable of producing productive woodlands making a significant contribution to net carbon sequestration and the delivery of the Government's Climate Change Delivery Plan targets.
  • Be ex-coalfield or derelict sites in South Scotland where woodland creation can be used to achieve large scale restoration and remediation of these sites.
  • Be suitable for the creation of new native woodlands contributing to the delivery of native woodland Habitat Action Plans.
  • Be located near to centres of population and capable of contributing to the delivery of the Woods In and Around Towns (WIAT) initiative.

Opportunities for Communities

The Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 (the Act) introduced the right for communities to request to purchase, lease, or rights to manage, use or occupy public land, including the National Forest Estate. Forest Enterprise Scotland has developed the Community Asset Transfer Scheme (CATS) to meet the requirements of the Act and build on the National Forest Land Scheme which Forestry Commission Scotland ran from 2005 to 2016.

Under the Act the Scottish Government regulations on public asset transfer came into force on 23 January 2017 and CATS opened on the same date.

Read further information on CATS, including guidance setting out the process for submitting an Asset Transfer Request for land from the National Forest Estate.

Effects of the Policy

In operating the New Woodland Investment Programme FES will seek to continue to deliver against all of its current objectives. There will, however, be some gradual changes in the nature of the estate:

a. To increase the contribution of the estate to social outcomes such as improved health and well-being and community capacity building, there will be a gradual shift from rural to urban and peri-urban areas.

Most of the properties sold are likely to be in areas relatively remote from significant communities and most of the properties purchased are likely to be closer to significant centres of population.

b. The unit cost of acquiring and planting land is generally higher than the unit price achieved from land sales, so, over time, there will be a slight reduction in the size of the National Forest Estate, but an increase in its overall value in contributing to delivery of the Scottish Forestry Strategy.

c. While the market for forest properties is relatively strong, opportunities to acquire, in the market place, land suitable for woodland creation are relatively limited. FES may therefore be unable to balance, in any one year, the value of land sold and capital re-invested but will seek to do so over several years.

Facts and Figures

Table 1 provides a summary of the area and value of land bought and sold since 1999 (PDF 53KB).

Table 2 provides details, since the re-positioning programme began in 2005/06, of individual acquisitions (PDF 51KB)
These figures have been extracted from centrally held files. Figures have been rounded.

Table 3 provides details, since the re-positioning programme began in 2005/06, of of individual sales (PDF 102KB)
These figures have been extracted from centrally held files. Figures have been rounded.