SIR, Well done to the Royal Society of Edinburgh for speaking out and calling for an end to tax breaks for commercial forestry (The Scottish Farmer, March 9).

Contrary to your headline describing it as a ‘’controversial report’, most rural folk will say ‘not before time’.

That such a move to withdraw these tax breaks is seen as a ‘devastating blow to the industry’ by a prominent forest industry insider speaks volumes about the sector. Essentially it’s an admission that the whole thing is nothing more than one big tax avoidance scam.

On the point raised ‘that the UK imports 81% of its timber’, why are we Scots so easily suckered on this point. The following is a bit ‘nerdy’ but it is essential information as far as understanding just how plentiful timber is here. Scotland has a land area of 7.8m ha and a population of 5m and produces around 8.55m m3 of timber annually.

By comparison, Europe as a whole (the UK included) has a land area of 620m ha, a population of 627m, and produces 542.5m m3 of timber annually, as per the State of Europe’s Forest Report 2020.

Do the maths, as they say. Scotland by land area currently produces 25% over and above the European average, and by population (probably a more useful assessment of a country’s timber requirements) Scotland actually produces double the timber of the European average on this per capita basis – all from a country where more than half the land area is totally unsuitable for forestry. Too high, too hard, and too deep of peat!

To add a bit of context to these figures, also consider that Europe (including England, aka ‘the UK’) is a net timber exporter (30m m3 surplus) – produced from a vast and growing timber resource felled at a very sustainable 73% of annual incremental forest growth.

Furthermore, Europe currently burns 112m m3 of roundwood annually (and could burn more, such is its abundance) – in addition to this, Europe burns tens of millions of tonnes of waste wood, all of which could be recycled into useful construction products like particleboard but is simply not needed such is the abundance of virgin timber. If paper recycling rates were raised, Europe would have even less need of its burgeoning stockpile of roundwood.

All this is set in a world where roughly half of all timber produced annually is burned – the burning of which constitutes around 4-5% of all anthropogenic warming in soot effects alone (Jacobsen 2010). That figure excludes the global warming effect of all the emissions of CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide also emitted at combustion. It’s worth noting – per unit of energy – burning wood pumps 2.5 times more CO2 into the atmosphere than burning gas.

Further, according to Scotland’s National Forest Inventory, Scottish timber production is estimated to soar further to 12m m3 by 2030. So, in just a few years, Scotland will be producing around three times more timber than the European average on a per capita basis and getting on for double on a land area basis. Even by then there will still be all the tens of thousands of acres of new first rotation forest, that’s been planted over the last 25 years still to come on stream that will further swell timber supplies.

If the Scottish Government has got its figures right by that 2030 date, Scotland will be producing as much timber as Norway, all from a country a fifth of its size. In fact, relative to our land area, Scotland is already producing more timber than France, Spain, the USA, Canada and Russia.

I wonder if the good people of Norway, for example, are lying awake in their beds at night contemplating the fact that wee Scotland, in relative land area terms, is already producing three times more timber than them. Perhaps they will thinking of introducing tax breaks in the hope that wealthy individuals and corporations from the likes of Germany, Sweden, or England will come in and buy up their land to plant it with monoculture sitka forests (pushing their out local communities in the process). I wonder, I wonder?

Of course, they won’t! They have far too much common sense and self-belief to be suckered the way we have been here in Scotland. So why on earth do we continue to allow our country to be swallowed up and effectively dismantled in every way possible by these asset strippers?

We live in times when we’re told we must prepare for the effects of climate change and are also warned that rainfall and water supply are becoming increasingly uncertain in many important food-producing regions of the world.

Yet here in Scotland, the least likely part of Europe to ‘dry up’, our government in its (literally) unquestioning support of forestry is systematically destroying our ability to produce food. Not just from our beef and sheepmeat producing uplands but from some of the earliest dairy land in Dumfries and Galloway to the productive grain and tattie ground of north east – ‘come on down’, it’s all for sale, it seems!

It is famously said Scotland is the only country in the world to discover oil and get poorer. Now it seems with that same self-destruct mindset, we have a Scottish nationalist government holding the reins that’s content to sacrifice our farmland and sell out our rural communities – because England has a deficit in its timber supply. I don’t get it!

Jim Ramsay, Dalry