Vigilance and rapid response

Threats to forests and forestry businesses - particularly from pests and diseases - can emerge very quickly and can have a huge impact. Keeping a close eye on forest condition is vital, as is a preparedness to take rapid action to salvage benefits from threatened forests.

Key threats that should be monitored in Scotland’s forests today (and a summary of the actions that can be taken by a forest manager) are listed below. Links take you to more detail about the particular threat or the response.

a) Risks from pests and diseases. This is a fast-moving subject, so see the Forestry Commission’s GB Pest and disease web pages for the most up-to-date information. Links to specific Scottish action plans for diseases of particular relevance to Scotland will be published on the GB web pages when they are produced.

FC has also produced guidance on biosecurity measures that should be taken in forests to prevent the spread of pests and diseases.

b) Physical risk. Important physical risks include:

  • Drought damage, particularly ‘crack’ in species vulnerable to moisture stress (e.g. Sitka spruce, silver firs and other conifers). Appropriate short-term action may include bringing forward felling where value can still be realised from the timber. Longer-term action may include avoiding planting sensitive species on sites where they could be drought stressed – to do this necessitates a knowledge of the site and soil types. The key tools to use to decide whether a particular species is likely to be under stress on a site are the Ecological Site Classification tool and, for Sitka spruce, the ‘Sitka spruce DSS’, both available at This site requires a password which is simple to obtain – so please don’t let this put you off!
  • Windthrow – most likely to affect older even-aged crops. Forest managers should ensure readiness through contingency planning (see below), and for the longer term, diversify forest age structures to reduce impact and use the Forest Gales tool to understand and minimise the windthrow hazard of proposed planting.
  • Forest fires – particularly in areas close to built up or publicly used areas. Maintain a fire plan for the forest so as to be ready to deal with fires that start, and for the longer term develop forests that are resilient to fires. Guidance is in preparation to help with both of these approaches and a link will be added when it is available.

c) Contingency plans should be put in place to prepare for catastrophic events. Internal guidance for Forestry Commission staff on ‘Planning for the unexpected’ has some helpful pointers and is well worth a read. In brief, such plans should:

  • Outline the roles and responsibilities of staff – and ensure that staff know and understand their roles.
  • Identify the resources that would be required to clear up following a storm, fire or pest outbreak.
  • Deal with the logistics of getting staff and plant to the right places quickly.
  • Be tested and be capable of halting normal operations quickly, to attend to urgent requirements.
  • Instruct on how impacts on public access will be managed and communicated.

For large-scale windthrow events the plans should explain how timber will be salvaged and stored to prevent degradation by pests and pathogens. Prompt removal of windthrown trees will be necessary to reduce the likelihood of build-up of local beetle populations, for example to reduce bark beetle infection of pine and larch on drought-risk sites. Storage of logs in stacks on dry land under sprinkler systems is a practical solution that has been used successfully on a number of occasions to store timber for several years.