Thursday, 19 February 2009

THE BACK DOOR PRIVATISATION OF SCOTLAND'S FORESTS




The
Scotsman contained an article yesterday about the long-term leasing of 25% of Scotland's forests and the fact that 71% of people, who responded to a Scottish government consultation, were against it.  About 12% supported the government's proposals and the rest were undecided or neutral (from a total of 399 replies).

The document also highlighted the Forestry Commission Scotland's union had collected about 3,700 signatures against and the Lib Dems say they have gathered a 12,000 name petition also against the proposals.

Mike Russell states on the FC website, " To reach our vision of 25% of Scotland being covered in woodland we need to create 50,000 hectares of new woodland, roughly 25 times the size of Edinburgh.  We need a new way of doing this and it will cost more money.

More woodland can help tackle greenhouse gas emissions and importantly supports local businesses and farm diversification.  If we can raise new funds from leasing our forests then it will kick start a massive expansion in woodland creation and conservation benefits so it's a win win situation".

Good spin Mike but it's certainly not a win win situation, it's a win lose one and Scotland would be the loser.  Here in Tayside forest covers around 13% of the land, 35% is publicly owned and 65% privately owned.  With this proposal it could well result in Tayside forests being privately owned give or take 5% in 99 years time and plenty long enough for leased forests to be accepted as the norm.

In my naivity surely the Scottish government could find the money to introduce the 'new way of doing this' and not rent off our land to private businesses, who we can be assured, will make large profits.

Within the Forest Commission there is a great deal of expertise and skill.  Why can't these people be used to introduce more new methods and more people encouraged towards a career in forestry?  After all, Scotland's landowners, foresters and universities played an important part in the introduction and dissemination of scientific forestry in Britain.  

We own little enough of our country and this proposal bodes badly for Scotland. It is privatisation by the back door and no amount of spin will convince me otherwise. The Scottish government need to drop this idea now, before it damages their credibility.  

As for Sarah Boyack saying in the Scotsman that the lease plan must be dropped, that's a labour U-turn here in Scotland.  Westminster are planning to lease off chunks of English forests so it is labour party policy.  Thankfully forestry is a devolved issue. We have a government which listens to the people and hopefully Roseanna Cunningham, in her new post, will hear the voices of dissent.

20 comments:

scunnert said...

What a cringing admission - we don't know how to plant trees - only the private sector knows how to do it. Excuse me but have they tried they age old method of kicking some management arse?

If the people running our forests can't meet the expectations of the job - fire them, and hire someone on the clear understanding that they either achieve the goals set out or they're gone.

These folks are paid good money to do the job. If they can't - don't sell the family farm - get rid of them and hire someone else.

subrosa said...

Scunnert, that's what I was trying to say. You should have written this. Thanks. I've spoken with a retired FC heid bummer today (retired 18 years) and he says it's total nonsense all this. He's an SNP member too and well known within their ranks. Fortunately he says he won't give up.

Montague Burton said...

"Here in Tayside forest covers around 13% of the land, 35% is publicly owned and 65% privately owned. With this proposal it could well result in Tayside forests being privately owned give or take 5%."

Rosa, as we are talking about leasing, we (the public) would still own 35% of the forest. Remember access is enshrined in law, it will create jobs, and more planting of trees, thus offsetting our massive carbon imbalance. So win-win.

Current senior FCS people I have spoken with are energised that they have been finally allowed to be more creative and adventurous in their approach to land management.

As it was a consultation, perhaps you could tell me how the publicly funded FCS might go about raising an estimated £200 million to invest in plant and climate change?

subrosa said...

Monty what's the £200m needed for? Machinery? Ok, I know it's needed to buy saplings but what else? Will it be buying manpower also?

Oh yes it will create jobs you say, but who gets the benefits the workers produce? That'll go into the coffers of the leasing companies. What kind of jobs will it create? Where are the private companies coming from?

I admit I don't know any current senior staff in the FC and I accept what you say. If I were in their position I'd be delighted too that my job would be more creative and adventurous, but I wonder if they'll feel that way 20 years down the line. Let's face it, there's nothing we can do if a lease is bought by a European company and they decided to bring their own staff.

I do understand the difference between leasing and purchasing and I also understand the substantial difficulties that may well come about when the leases run out. Of course that's 99 years away so why should the likes of me worry when I'll be compost anyway.

Leasing is a half way house to purchasing, everyone knows that. The world will be a different place in 99 years so where's the guarantee that the leasees will return the land in the best possible condition if at all?

Look no further than Canada where they had problems some 25 years ago with leasees.

I'm sure the public (of my generation anyway) would be happy to donate £5 towards buying saplings.

I apologise for not making clear what I meant with your first paragraph. It should have read ' in 99 years time' and I'll amend that.

Will be interesting to hear your answers.

Montague Burton said...

Hi Rosa, as I've said already, the proposal has been consultative and it would be remiss of the government not too include cast iron guarantees on TUPE, access and lease conditions on planting, both amount and range of saplings.

The suggested lease is 75 years, which would be split into sensible periods to reflect changes, both environmental and commercial.

Here's one small consideration for you, private foresters in Canada and Scandanavia build and maintain sensible road systems, which minimise transport impact on public roads and are so well maintained that their vehicles are rarely damaged, unlike the basic cut through tracks we have in Scotland which shorten the lives of vehicles, drivers and other road users. It is in the interests of any private company to follow the Canadian and Scandanavian path.

Ohh the £200m would as i say be spent on fighting climate change through planting. We currently can afford to plant only 4500 has, in order to meet our own sensible targets we need to plant 10,000has a year. We've got a government that can't borrow, can you suggest another untapped income stream?
cheers

Monty

subrosa said...

Hi Monty, this is obviously one of your fortes and I appreciate your explanations.

I suggested an income stream did I not? I'm sure the public would 'adopt a tree' or whatever. What's it called these days now ... participative action or something.

My research was limited about this post but I did note that many tree hauliers had gone out of business in the past years. Must find the site that mentions that.

Canada have learned a great deal about leasing and it was an expensive lesson. Glad to hear they're more organised. Why can't we build roads? I know we can't borrow but that doesn't mean to say we've to rent out part of the country.

Monty, you see I'm 40 years older than you and I can see this going from leasing to ownership quite smoothly. I know you think it's a great idea but it'll take much persuasion for my generation to accept - if at all. Remember the 50+s are the people who DO vote and I suspect they are the ones who are more against the proposal than anyone, other than various interested bodies of course.

Get the FC to print some leaflets and take some TV time saying 'sponsor a tree'. Don't use the bunch who've designed the FC website, it's useless and built for a 40" screen.

If the idea doesn't take off then the FC will have some money in the kitty. It's the kind of appeal that I would willingly hit the streets to promote and I'm sure I could rope in quite a few others (if they oil their zimmers).

scunnert said...

Having worked in forestry I must say that a goal of planting 10,000 trees isn't much. One crew could easily do that in a month. Two hundred million quid? - yer havin a laarf. Of course senior management are keen - these are the guys that can't do the job they're paid to do and see it as their "in" to the private sector, and the big, big money.

As far as public access goes - these aren't actually forests, but tree plantations. Ever tried to take a walk through one? Maybe okay if you're a hedgehog.

Anonymous said...

Just read the comments and a good debate going on. I have to lean towards Murkin (Monty)on his views. If you look at Cananda and Norway etc they manage there forests very well becouse they know they have to in order to make an income, plus the investment that comes with it would benefit many towns.

Does Terry wogan not own a lot of trees on Arran ? Anyway most of Scotlands orests are in the hands of absintee land lords who only come over once in a blue moon to pick apples.

subrosa said...

Maybe it's the difference with the generations but I'm with scunnert on this one.

The FC doesn't want for money, indeed they spend it willy nilly down this way with 5 expensive leaflets and a CD about Perthshire Trees. I say expensive because I know the graphic artist who did 2 of the leaflets and exactly how much they cost.

Canada has serious problems with private forest leasees not too long ago (but before you two were born). That's the route Canada has decided to go down.

Britain decided the Forestry Commission would manage our forests and woodland. It's obvious they've not done a good job if we're having to go the way of renting land off.

As scunnert says planting trees is an easy game. There are a couple of chaps in town here who make a fortune from it and do it at a rate of knots.

subrosa said...

Monty, I was going to suggest why don't you do a post on your blog as you have good information.

I do know one thing, that if this goes ahead, then the SNP vote will fall in this area. Even farmers are very anti, the very people who care for our land.

Spook, yes, lots of our land is owned by private absentee landlords, do you really want more of it rented by private business. What should happen of course if this goes ahead, is that 25% of the FC staff should go right away if 25% of the forests are going.

brownlie said...

subrosa,

I seem to recall some years ago that individuals like, as Spook, said Terry Wogan, Steve Davis,the snooker players and assorted foot-ballers were buying forestry land and were, I think, given tax incentives to do so. I can't recall the full story but it makes you wonder how much is still publicly owned?

Anonymous said...

I'm with Monty on this.

The Forestry Commission realy on the industry to show them how to properly commercialise timber in Scotland.

Access is enshrined in law and these are leases that we are talking about, leases of 75 years because that's how long it will take to make 25% more Forestry in Scotland productive.

Yes, it would be great if there were money available to do this in the budget but the simply fact is that money isn't made available in the block grant for this expansion.

Another reason for borrowing powers, yes probably.

But this must start now if we are going to get anywhere near the targets and kick start Scotland's forestry into a palce where it can compete with cheap foreign imports.

What the SG should do is insist on agreed species mix and biodiversity targets for all leased land. This is something that the FCS has failed to properly do in Scotland and th vast majority of our woodland is a desert for wildlife and forest floor diversity.

I'll get off my soapbox now.

Conan the Librarian™ said...

A knotty problem indeed, subrosa, but I'm not going to pine about it fir fecks sake.

God I sound like brownlie;-)

brownlie said...

Conan,

I am deeply hurt that you associate me with such pathetic punning but perhaps you're right.

Have you got a Hebridean accent? Neither have I!

subrosa said...

Wardog, from the FC's website imports are around 80% and have been for some years. Why have we been ploughing loadsa money into the FCS if they're not delivering the goods?

Before any leasing starts, the FCS ought to be cleaned out of the incompetent and free-riders. As scunnert says they haven't come up with the goods so why are they still in a job.

Commencing leasing without sorting out the problems with the FSC is the way labour would handle the problem. I don't want an independent Scotland run in this way. The cause of the problem must be eliminated before the solution is put in place or else we'll have a scenario similar to the banks (taking the 'solution' for their own ends).

Anonymous said...

Hi Subrosa

It's the right question but the wrong man, you have to wodner what FCS havebeen promoting.

I was a very interesting conference recently where they were slated for covering scotland in cheap and nasty stika spruce, leading to acidification of the soil, high Co2 emissions in production and an unsustainable forestry practice that has allowed the Scandinavians to corner our hosue building market with cheaper imports that allegedly are not only better quality but actually require less co2 to get to market.

Madness indeed

It's maybe time to rethink what they do, I've heard on the grapevine that Russell gave them a rocket up the backside when he took over and refocused their work onto a much more commercial footing, as one of the key drivers ina future independent Scotland's economy.

Scandanvain timber is used through scotland on house building and their is no need for it. FCS has failed to properly promote and encourage scottish grown product, instead Scottish Enterprise has been focusing on high tech and hasn't understood basic import/export economics.

I understand your concerns re: leasing, it does appear to be a long time, but to increase the share dof forresty to cover an additional 25% of scotland is like re-foresting aberdeenshire.

It's Massive and wil require replanting at a rate atleast 5 times more annually than we have been doing over the last 25 years.

I suspect that the bill that will come forward will drastically change FCS, making it more of a specialist wing of Scottish Enterprise which is also in the process of reformation.

Montague Burton said...

Evenin' all. Scunnert it's not 10,000 trees, it's 10,000 hectares of trees we're talking about.

Rosa, I must come across as a youngster, I know I'm devastatingly handsome, but the reality is I'm nearer 50 than 40 :( so unless you're pushing 90...your lucks in!

Terry Wogan/Genesis etcetera all took advantage of tax breaks for planting future toilet paper. These breaks no longer exist, and there money isn't in it now, hopefully Bernard Madoff is looking after the Wogan wodge...

FCS wanting for money. They have finally discovered that their forte lies in land management, recreation, tourism, and education on bio-diversity. To be honest Rosa, putting work out to a graphic designer is but a mere pee in a pot to the amount of money FCS require.

We, the people, own nearly 800,000 acres of forestry, maintaining it is the equivalent of the painting the Forth rail bridge with a toothbrush.

I would dearly love it if FCS were a dynamic outfit at the top of the commercial tree that ploughed profits back into the business to create a sustainable industry and offset carbon emissions. Unfortunately they are not, and as much as you wouldn't want a plumber to perform open heart surgery on your mother, you wouldn't want FCS to try and be as above with the very limited resources and talents they currently have.

Wardog, your grapevine is absolutely spot on. He gave them the rocket and they loved it. He upped access to him and his team and took the civil servants out of Edinburgh and made them talk to FCS staff. The art bodies are about to undergo the same process!

I won't be doing a blawg post on this, because I'm thinking of knocking Jim Murphy's pan in, and to be honest trees bore me...

Remember Rosa, we own circa 800,000 acres in 75 years time we will still own 800,000 acres.

subrosa said...

Thanks for the really interesting posts Wardog and Monty. Jings monty, not another toyboy, I just can't cope :-) Do hope I didn't offend you but I assumed you were Spook's pal.

Can't you see where I'm coming from here though now? We need to clear our FCS and staff it with staff who are qualified to deal with forests today before we think of renting out bits. As scunnert says the rubbish in FCS will be rubbing their hands with glee - 25% of their work gets removed and therefore they've 25% less to do (or not). Great.

SE are a waste of money also but I won't start that debate.

Monty I made the statement about the leaflets just to show how much is wasted. No private business would have paid the money FCS offered.

Now Wardog, very intriguing to know about the replanting con which has been going on. I'm surrounded by forests here really but have seen little action in the past 20 years. Perhaps I'm wrong but when I was a child and used to walk through Perthshire forests there always seemed to be felling or planting happening.

Being out of the university courses loop for over 10 years, I googled forestry courses and there now seems quite a few available at reputable unis. A good career for a young person if they like the outdoors.

Another thing Monty, it doesn't take a university degree to plant trees so what's the problem with the FSC employing enough staff to do it? They don't have the money to pay them you'll possibly say, well my suggestion is to sack the hangers on. We must get the foundation of FCS sound before we move on.

Sorry about the ramble.

subrosa said...

Monty, you just made it onto the Super Seven this week. Another half hour and it would have been too late.

That post takes me longer than any other because throughout the week posts are superceded. Nightmare lol

scunnert said...

Montie - thanks for the correction. 10,000 hectares eh?

Area and number of seedlings planted on provincial Crown land in Canada in 2006 = 439,000 hectares and 601,000,000 seedlings.

Canada has a population roughly six times that of Scotland so it would be reasonable to suppose that Scotland could plant 1/6th of these totals or: 70,000 hectares and 100,000,000 seedlings per year.

http://canadaforests.nrcan.gc.ca/rpt#forests

BTW - BC's marijuana grow ops are now said to challenge forestry as the major economic activity in the province. Perhaps we should be looking to grow something other than trees?

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