MSPs unanimously agreed the general principles of the Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill at a Stage 1 debate at the Scottish Parliament on 7 November 2017. The lead committee for the Bill, the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee (RECC) heard evidence from industry representatives which was published in July this year, and this was summarised in a previous blog post. In October, the RECC then published a Stage 1 report on the Bill making a number of recommendations. The Scottish Government published responses to the report in early November, ahead of the debate. In this blog, we will look at some of the Scottish Government's responses. Whilst the Scottish Government agreed to consider some of the recommendations further, we have summarised some of the responses where they have agreed with the RECC's recommendations.
Organisational StructuresThe Scottish Government agreed to provide a statement setting out how it will manage and administer its forestry functions under the new organisational structure. The Scottish Forestry Strategy will include a definition of Sustainable Forest Management (SFM). The RECC recommended this in order to provide clarity and guidance on what this will mean in practice. The Scottish Government agreed with the recommendation to set out how the Forestry Strategy will integrate with UK Forestry Standard which is the current framework for delivery of SFM in the UK.
Tree Health and Cross Border FunctionsThe RECC recommended that a framework agreement for a continued cross-border approach of forest research and tree health be put in place before the Bill comes in to force. The Scottish Government agreed, and explained that that they intend to have a Memorandum of Understanding with the UK and Welsh Governments in place to underpin their functions.
Management of land by Scottish MinistersIn order to address concerns expressed by the industry, The Scottish Government will examine whether drafting changes should be made to the Bill at Stage 2 to clarify when afforested land will be designated to be managed according to SFM or sustainable development. They have however agreed to include a definition of sustainable development in the Forestry Strategy. The RECC put forward concerns in relation to compulsory purchase provisions in the Bill and noted that current compulsory purchase guidance does not include reference to sustainable development. The Scottish Government responded with a commitment to further examine the way in which the proposed extension of powers for compulsory purchase will include purchase for sustainable development. The Scottish Government, while noting the RECC's views, will consider the approaches to addressing the concerns in advance of Stage 2. The Scottish Government will explore the potential overlap between the section on community bodies and the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 with a view to making any necessary amendments at Stage 2.
FellingThe Scottish Government has agreed to bring forward an amendment to the definition of felling in the Bill. The RECC recommended changing this, as the proposed definition 'intentionally killing trees' is factually incorrect. Most native hardwood species regenerate after felling and the definition excludes such practices as coppicing which does not kill trees, and ring barking which kills trees but is not felling. The Scottish Government has already begun and will continue to consult with stakeholders on the exemptions to the offence of felling and have pledged to ensure a smooth transition between provisions in the Bill and the felling requirements in the current Forestry Act.
Further considerationThe Scottish Government undertook to further consider the following recommendations from the RECC:
- The head of the dedicated forestry division to be designated 'Chief Forester'
- The cycle of review of the Forestry Strategy to be every 5 years and a commitment to refresh the Strategy every 10 years. Such refresh should be subject to stakeholder consultation and Parliamentary scrutiny.
- To extend the duty to promote SFM to all relevant public bodies.