Last week, Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) announced its latest “starter farm”, and the first one in the Highlands¹. The recent flurry of activity by FCS setting up starter farms on land newly acquired for forestry has enthused some people and puzzled others. From the outside, it is not immediately apparent why FCS should be readying itself to become landlord to a bunch of youthful would-be farmers on – at last count – about 8 farms. FCS bought this land at considerable expense for the purpose of growing trees, then felt compelled to turn round and lease some of the best bits back to the farming community. In passing, we can’t help but be entertained by the curious association suggested by Forestry Commission Starter Farms. The exact mirror image would be SGRPD (i.e. government agriculture department) devoting some of its farmland to Starter Woodlands, with the aim of encouraging new entrants into forestry. But that is just too absurd.
Our purpose here is not to critique starter farms themselves. They are a good idea, because farmers and foresters cohabiting is clearly worthwhile and will hopefully increase understanding of the potential of farm-forestry. Our purpose is to ask a question. If getting new entrants into farming is so important – witness the endless references to this by the farming sector – why is it so absolutely unimportant in the case of forestry ? If we are willing to engage in social engineering to facilitate farmers, what is wrong with facilitating new entrants to forestry ?
So, if FCS starter farms are a good idea, then why not “FCS Starter Woodlands” for young people wishing to gain experience of owning and managing woodlands ? This would be another step towards reconnecting ordinary people with Scotland’s forests. And it would be another nail in the coffin of the persistent belief – which the forestry world has accepted for far too long -that the only people really to be trusted with owning and managing forests in Scotland are as follows: The Landed Gentry, The Nouveau Riche, City Investors and the Lincoln-Green-Clad Civil Servants of the Forestry Commission itself. Please, let’s consign that to history.
Post Script !
The words “forestry” and “new entrants” have appeared in the same sentence in a parliamentary reply by the minister, Paul Wheelhouse²: “This government also believes that land should be available to provide opportunities for new entrants to farming and forestry”.
And in this spirit of trying to reconnect the population at large with their woodlands, there are several developments to welcome. Scottish Woodlots Association have set up their first “woodlots” enabling the leasing of small areas of woodland³, under the banner of “family forestry”. The Thousand Huts campaign is progressing is progressing new ways of enabling people to build huts and spend time in woods4. And there are hints that future FCS disposals may include some smaller lots. Starter Woodlands ? Watch this space.