Forestry: Devolution and Brexit

09.04.19

At the time of writing, Brexit is scheduled to take place at 11pm on 12 April 2019. While the UK Government has now asked for a further extension to 30 June, the EU27 would have to agree to that. A no-deal Brexit on 12 April therefore remains a possibility and, unless and until something else is agreed, it remains the default option.

The UK legislative landscape in relation to forestry is changing significantly, and not just because of Brexit.

The most significant provisions, from both a political and practical perspective, of the Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Act 2018 (“the Act”) were implemented on 1 April. We blogged on this after the Bill was passed by the Scottish Parliament on 20 March. On that day the regulation of forestry activity in Scotland was devolved to Scottish Forestry, a new Scottish Government executive agency. Responsibility for the management and enhancement of the National Forest Estate in Scotland was taken on by another new agency, Forestry & Land Scotland. 

Transfer of operations

These agencies have respectively replaced Forestry Commission Scotland and Forest Enterprise Scotland. The combined staff roll of approximately 1,000 has already been transferred from the Forestry Commissioners to the Scottish Government, but replacing the well-known Forestry Commission Scotland livery on a fleet of vehicles and a portfolio of public buildings and forests across Scotland will be a much more gradual process.

Both agencies will be required to fulfil their functions in line with the first national forestry strategy, published last month.

Cross-border functions

In the progress of the Bill through the Scottish Parliament, and subsequent consultation on the first 10 year strategy, there was a clear industry message about the importance of strong and co-ordinated cross-border co-operation on issues such as plant health and research. Prior to implementation of the Act the Scottish, Welsh and UK Governments agreed a memorandum of understanding. This was partly designed to facilitate future co-operation but also to share the administrative and financial burden for the specific matters that will continue to affect all forestry within the UK.

Under the Act, the Scottish Government (through Scottish Forestry) will, in general terms, be responsible for assessing the standards for good forest management, administering the carbon code and advising on forestry economics. The Welsh Government will lead on forestry research and the UK Government on plant health and international policy support. The success or otherwise of these arrangements may determine whether this policy can be replicated within other sectors.

Brexit

The Scottish forestry industry has always kept a keen eye on the international situation, particularly in Europe. The weaker pound has led to a significant increase in the cost to UK processors and other end-users of importing timber, increasing the demand for and price of domestic product. This has been welcome news to forest owners and managers, and has been a factor in the increase in sales prices for forests across the UK.

Tree health is also of huge importance to the industry, in particular the prevention of movement of pests and diseases, including from other countries.  The existing legislation in this sphere is quite dependent on EU legislation and the Scottish Government has to take steps to ensure that the essential protections remain effective from the date of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. To that end, the Government has made two Brexit-related Scottish statutory instruments: the Forestry (EU Exit) (Scotland) (Amendment etc.) Regulations 2019 and the Plant Health (EU Exit) (Scotland) (Amendment etc.) Regulations 2019. These Regulations are intended to ensure that relevant EU legislation in relation to biosecurity, plant health and environmental standards remains operational after Brexit. Parts of the Plant Health Regulations are already in force, with the rest of the legislation to come into force on exit day (currently scheduled for 12 April).

If you have any further questions, please get in touch with Clive Phillips or Graeme Leith. Visit our Brexit Hub for regular updates on Brexit-related issues.