Sir, – I refer to an article in your March 24 edition regarding a claim by Confor that, following 'studies' carried out on two recent large woodland plantings in the south of Scotland, it had been proven that more people now lived on these areas than did so when the land was in agricultural use.

I, and many others in this locality, would strongly dispute these findings. It is obvious to anyone who knew both Westwater and Larrieston – when each was a highly successful farming unit – that the assertion that occupancy of the dwelling houses on both is now higher than it was, is questionable.

It appears that whoever was responsible for collating the information has, at best, been selective in their dates for the previous occupancy on the ground, or has deliberately manipulated the figures to achieve the result desired.

When Westwater was being farmed full time, ie not immediately prior to planting, the farm employed a manager, stockman, shepherd and two gamekeepers, not the three individuals the report maintains were employed. Far from there being double the people now living on the ground, I believe there are actually less, despite the new business breeding falcons for the Middle East market.

The forest does not now provide 'continuous employment in management and deer control'. Management will presumably be covered from a desk in a forestry office in Dumfries, with deer control being carried out by paying amateurs with no professional stalker directly involved.

The report, while attempting to indicate that there is ongoing employment between planting and harvesting is, again, far from accurate. From my personal knowledge of the ground, I have in the past 10 years since planting only observed a small number of contractors in the forest re-planting failed trees and recently two contracted men cutting the plastic tree guards off hardwoods.

These plastic tubes, incidentally, now litter the ground in their thousands.

These 'studies' have conveniently overlooked the additional services of agricultural suppliers for feed and minerals, contractors at various stages in the season, contract clippers, veterinary services, fuel companies plus a multitude of general businesses who benefited, not at each end of a 35-40 year growing period, but annually.

In the case of Westwater, a successful commercial shoot also saw seasonal employment for a large number of local people.

I would also question the figures provided for the use of the ground. A cursory examination of an Ordnance Survey map would show that there is not around 40% of the farm, 212 ha to 523ha, open ground as claimed. The entire unit is under trees other than a hill which, due to peat, could not be planted and similarly a number of archaeological sites.

A further distortion of occupancy figures is, in my view, seen at the second 'case study' at Larrieston.

Perhaps Confor might wish to review their 'studies' and provide less slanted information because, in my experience, when any party attempts to justify a position with highly manipulated statistics, they are far from confident that they are able to defend their position.

Aeneas M Nicolson

Bridge House,