SCOTGOV'S commitment to increasing the country’s tree cover has been bolstered by the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy Fergus Ewing’s announcement of the intention to implement a stepped increase in the annual planting target from 10,000 hectares to 15,000 hectares by 2025.

New woodlands still qualify under the agricultural Basic Payment Scheme and applicants can secure grant funding via the Scottish Rural Development Programme towards the cost of undertaking the planting. According to land agents Bidwells, there is some optimism in the industry that now is the time to “start planting again”.

But the company has highlighted that landowners and managers can now also top up the income generated from woodland creation by selling the rights to the carbon captured by newly planted trees. But to do this, the new woodland must meet the Government backed Woodland Carbon Code standards which, amongst other things, demonstrate that reliable estimates of carbon captured can be made, giving the number of ‘carbon units’ available for sale; that a long-term management plan is in place; and, importantly, that the new planting project would not go ahead without the additional carbon funding.

Bidwells explained that this WCC system is designed to help organisations and businesses mitigate the impact of their greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to wider environmental benefit by funding tree planting elsewhere. The landowner undertaking the planting is required to make a commitment to retain the woodland created for a set period, to manage the trees on an agreed silvacultural system and to allow the carbon purchaser to use the woodland for their marketing purposes.

Benefits to the landowner are primarily financial, with the income generated from the sale of carbon units supplementing that from planting grants, the sale of timber and sporting activities as well as helping to recoup the woodland establishment and management costs and loss of agricultural income.

In the past, carbon purchasers were primarily focused on helping to fund new native planting schemes due to the perceived additional wider environmental benefits this would bring. However, a recent development has been the recognition that faster growing commercial conifer species, such as Sitka spruce, absorb and lock up carbon from the atmosphere faster than the slower growing native species.

Of course, any new planting scheme is required to meet the UK Forestry Standard and will have a proportion of native and non-commercial trees species but recognition of the benefits of growing productive conifer allows the landowner not only to create a new carbon sequestering woodland but a woodland that will provide an in-demand product at the end of the carbon sale agreement.

In early 2017, Bidwells worked with a Perthshire landowner to successfully deliver 21 hectares of new woodland and the negotiated sale of the carbon units arising. During 2017/18 there are plans to create several new woodlands throughout Scotland with its clients – and for 565 hectares of these new woodlands, it is working to reach an agreement on the sale of carbon units.

[blob] Resurrected from its last publication in 2009, the Bidwells Timber Price Database reports on standing values of conifer timber grown by the private sector in Scotland and Northern England between October 2016 and March 2017.

The database tracks private sector sales to plot trends within the industry providing a useful insight for woodland owners. Data provided by a wide range of contributors relates to some 97 transactions, totalling the equivalent of 658,000m2, with a standing value to the grower of almost £15.7 million.

Bidwells head of forestry, Raymond Henderson, said: “The market for good quality timber is very strong at the moment. Uncertainties created by Brexit and the Trump effect have not been positive, but the significant weakening of the Sterling has, of course, led to home-grown timber becoming even better value when compared to its imported equivalent.

“The value of this database is directly linked to the amount of data received from the forest industry and we hope that this publication will be found useful by as wide a range of people and organisations as possible. This would allow us to fulfil the ambition to provide updates on a six-monthly basis.”

A copy of the report can be obtained by contacting Bidwells on 01738 630666.