NFU Scotland has stated that it remains fully supportive of the integration of woodlands into farm businesses, recognising the multiple benefits including enhanced biodiversity, alternative income streams, livestock shelter and silvopasture.

However, it remains fundamentally opposed to the wholesale and irreversible land use change of largescale forestry expansion on productive agricultural land.

The union said that such growth in recent times has been fuelled by non-agricultural businesses purchasing land for planting to offset carbon emissions and boost their green credentials.

At the same time, this is eroding Scotland’s capacity to improve its self-sufficiency in food.

Cabinet meetings

NFU Scotland met recently with Cabinet Secretary Mairi Gougeon, Minister Mairi McAllan and senior officials from Scottish government and Scottish forestry to discuss its growing concerns.

NFU Scotland vice-president Andrew Connon said:

“On a weekly, if not daily basis, members are contacting us from all parts of the country about the loss of productive Scottish agricultural land to wholesale forestry.

We accept that land use is never a straight choice and integrated land use is clearly a major part of reaching net zero targets.

“However, we are equally clear that optimal land use is the only route to attaining multiple objectives, and that must include food production, climate change ambitions and biodiversity enhancement.

“As well as the existing legal safeguards that preserve Scotland’s very limited ‘prime’ agricultural land from wholesale tree planting, NFU Scotland believes the time is right for a more robust approach to screening planting applications on Scotland’s ‘productive’ agricultural land.

“Meeting with the Cabinet Secretary and Minister, we were able to highlight a number of case studies from across Scotland that illustrated the loss of very productive agricultural land to forestry planting.”

Planting incentives

“We also highlighted how planting incentives and unregulated carbon markets are effectively eroding Scotland’s food security, adding to the risk of simply offshoring our emissions by increasing our reliability on imported products,” he added.

“While the aggregate data on tree planting on land types over recent years shows how well Scotland is doing in reaching the Scottish government’s planting targets, they disguise whether woodland has been integrated within thriving farming enterprises or whether once-productive land has been lost to trees.

“We were keen to stress that loss of agricultural activity, and the families it sustains, also risks irreversible socio-economic downturn in many rural areas and that continuous agricultural land management is the best way to support communities, jobs and incomes across rural Scotland.

Every agricultural business, regardless of tenure, should be in a position to consider viable and practical woodland creation options as part of mainstream agricultural and land use policy.

“However, that is completely different from wholescale farm plantings that take out not only good agricultural land but also the people who are the life and soul of the community.”