Campaigners demand Forestry Bill meets radical rhetoric of land reform

26/09/2016
michael

Change to management of state-owned forestries can be far bolder, says Andy Wightman MSP 

GREEN MSP ANDY WIGHTMAN and land reform campaigners are calling on the Scottish Government to be bold in its approach to managing the country’s forestry estate.

Wightman warned that current plans for the full devolution of forest management in a Forestry Bill were “timid” compared to the greater opportunities of providing local control and opportunities through changing how the 1.6m acres of public forest cover is managed. 

Speaking at the Community Land Scotland conference on land reform, activists echoed Wightman’s call with hopes that the land reform movement will respond on mass to the ongoing government consultation on the prospective bill.

Currently the government plans only minimal restructuring of the vast estate, which is the largest slice of public land legally owned by Scottish Ministers. 

The 2016 consultation for the bill focuses on “new organisational arrangements”, “effective cross-border arrangements”, and “legislation and regulation” surrounding the replacement of the 1967 Forestry Act.

At the same time the government is creating greater demands on private and charitable landowners to democratise land ownership through wider consideration with the people who live and work on the land. 

Wightman, speaking to CommonSpace, argued that this culture change should also apply to government owned land.

“I think this is a massive opportunity to transform the way we do state-owned land – to democratise it, to make it genuinely public, to engage a much, much wider range of people, whole communities, local government, charities, conservation groups etc. in the management of the national forestry state,” Wightman said. 

Wightman, who studied forestry at Aberdeen University in the 1980s, added that he was hopeful other MSPs would be receptive to bolder action.

 “I think there is an interest in doing something different with forestry, in doing something different with this 1.6m acres, doing something different that will actually create more jobs, more economic impact, more local empowerment,” he said.

“It’s going to be hard I think because we’ve been in a frame of mind since 1919 – when the Forestry Commission was set-up – that this is a state enterprise. Now there’s plenty role for state enterprise, but there’s also a role for more local management,” he added.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon promised radical land reform in her first programme for government. While a land reform bill was passed, SNP members voted against the proposals at its conference for not going far enough.

Protest groups demanded action over the 750,000 acres of land registered in tax havens, while greater action was called for in relation to tenant farmers’ right to buy and the development of derelict land.

The 2016 Act was passed in parliament during a debate that described the land reform agenda as “unfinished business”.

Wightman hopes for further progress on the cost of land, concentration of ownership, land taxation, and a lack of affordable housing.

The consultation for the Forestry Bill closes on Wednesday 9th November.

Picture courtesy of Mike Davison

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