FORESTRY TRADE body Confor has explored the impact of two large new woodland creation projects in the south of Scotland – and concluded that the number of people living on the land increased after trees were planted.

The publication, Forestry and Local Economy, analysed the number of people living on the land before and after tree planting took place at Larriston, north of Newcastleton, and Westwater, near Langholm.

Confor chief executive Stuart Goodall said the organisation had been keen to examine concerns that while tree planting was an environmentally and economically attractive use of the land, it might be at the expense of people living in the area.

Mr Goodall explained: "We studied two recent large schemes in southern Scotland and the results show that, in these examples, there are now more people living on the land than before the trees were planted.”

Around half of each site has been planted with timber, which is typical of recent woodland creation projects in Scotland. Over the forest’s lifetime, these will sustain around the same level of local employment as the previous farms, and when they begin to be harvested will sustain wider jobs at sawmills in the south of Scotland – such as James Jones and Sons at Lockerbie and BSW at Dalbeattie.

Confor insisted that its research found that the importance of these projects for the local community went beyond the provision of timber – empty and ruined buildings on the sites, and the open ground, have attracted new owners. This has diversified land ownership in the region and more than doubled the number of permanent residents. Small businesses including a falcon breeding business, agricultural plant contractor and holiday lets are flourishing, and farming continues on

Mr Goodall said: “This is further compelling evidence of the benefit of Scotland's £1 billion forestry sector to the economy of south Scotland, and builds on the evidence of our 2014 study of the productivity and economic impact of Eskdalemuir.

“And the benefit to the community does not stop at the forest gate. James Jones has recently announced a £7m investment in its sawmill at Lockerbie, to secure its 141 jobs and improve its production of timber for sustainable Scottish construction.”

At Westwater, the 815 hectare property previously comprised 106ha improved and 665ha rough grazing for sheep and cattle, plus 44ha woods, buildings and tracks. It was planted with trees in 2008-09, and now has 424ha under conifers, 53ha under broadleaves, 46ha existing woodland buildings and tracks, 80ha improved grazing for sheep, and 212ha open.

According to the Confor study, over its lifetime, the Westwater forest will on average employ 2.5 people, the same as on the old farm. Whereas the farm employed a shepherd, stockman and a part-time gamekeeper continuously, the forest provides continuous employment in management and deer control, but a much larger workforce at planting and harvest times.

On the farm, around nine people lived on the site as tenants of tied cottages. When the forest was planted, the properties were sold off individually including the previously empty big house and a ruined building.

All the properties are owner-occupied, and the number of people has doubled, with everyone working on various enterprises on the estate and surrounding area. The impact of the purchase and establishment of the forest, argued Confor, had been to diversify both the range of employment on the estate and ownership of it, creating a far more resilient community.

At Larriston, the 1108ha property had previously comprised 115ha improved and 897ha rough grazing for sheep and cattle; alongside 56ha or existing mixed woodland, tracks, and scree.

Since planting in 2016-17, the land has 450ha in conifers and 62ha under broadleaves; 540ha open ground, and 56ha of existing mixed woodland, tracks, and scree.

The previous farm employed approximately 1.5 people, including a part-time shepherd and casual help at lambing time.

During the planting phase in years 1-3, 40-50 full-time people were employed installing 9000m fencing, spraying bracken and planting. In the establishment phase in years 3-5 there will still be higher employment than the farm, ensuring pests and browsing animals are controlled and the trees establish.

In years 5-20, recreational facilities will be developed: links into a long-distance cross-border footpath, and an industrial archaeology interpretation trail including the old tile works in the Larriston Burn. From years 20-40, a continuing cycle of activity will pick up as the forest requires thinning, harvesting

and replanting.

The forest manager and assistant are early-career foresters recruited through a graduate scheme, and for them Larriston provides the opportunity for experience and training as part of a structured professional career.

As at Westwater, the buildings on the estate have been sold. Whereas previously the only inhabitant was the shepherd, now four cottages and a development site are inhabited by around 10 people, and these residents are adding a growing number of holiday lets.