Landowners and managers in the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park want to play their part in meeting woodland creation targets – but they are hesitating due to uncertainties around future agricultural support and carbon funding, and the perceived challenges of undertaking woodland creation in the area.

This was the conclusion of new research carried out by Dr Rob McMorran, from Scotland’s Rural College, as part of a SEFARI-funded fellowship to examine the opportunities and constraints for expanding woodland in the Trossachs.

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Dr McMorran's enquiries found landowners at different scales expressing a relatively high level of interest in new woodland creation, but exposed the need to identify and understand current constraints to scheme development and implementation, and to provide additional support measures where required.

The report, published on the SEFARI website, backs up previous research which found that financial incentives represent only one of a combination of social, economic and environmental/capacity factors which can constrain woodland scheme uptake.

It also identified several more regionally specific factors, including perceived regulatory constraints and delays relating to the sensitivities associated with woodland creation in the National Park, reduced uptake linked to higher grant rates in other areas and the high existing levels of conifer forest as driving 'negative perceptions' of productive forestry in the region. The fact there are more smaller holdings than in the Highlands and the steep slopes in parts of the National Park were also identified as limiting factors for new woodland schemes.

In addition, the limited number of farm and estate sales in the area was linked to low uptake, due to the 'embedded' land use models on long term holdings and the links between land ownership change and afforestation identified in the research.

Dr McMorran's report sets out approaches for increasing uptake, including managing perceptions of undertaking woodland creation by encouraging dialogue between owners, forestry agents and key stakeholders and achieving ‘financial tipping points’ by promoting small-scale woodland markets and developing a ‘locational premium’ to support woodland creation that aligns with the National Park’s Trees and Woodland Strategy.

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The research also identified the importance of managing risks and uncertainties for owners by providing financial support to undertake woodland options appraisals and increasing local advisory officer capacity through the National Park Authority and Scottish Forestry.

Rob said: “The research has shown that while there may be a high level of interest in new woodland creation, there are various barriers to owners and managers taking that first step and starting a woodland scheme. However, measures can be undertaken to nudge them towards making that decision, including ensuring they are well advised, that the finances stack up against the alternative use for that land and that they are aware of the value of emerging markets such as biomass and carbon.

“The research showed that owners and managers learn from each other, and scope exists to facilitate the sharing of experiences of woodland creation and to encourage a land use change by owners seeing the benefits on their neighbours’ land,” he added.