Scotland’s Forest and Timber Strategy

Scotland’s Forest and Timber Strategy

Current Forest & Timber industries in Scotland include the following activities:

Nurseries, Forestry, Timber Processing, Engineered Timber Products, Pulp & Paper, Fibre & Particleboard, Furniture & finished products, Wood Energy (biomass) and Forest Tourism.

These naturally low-carbon industries play an important role in the Construction, Renewable Energy and Tourism industries that capitalise on the inherent sustainability strengths of timber.

Employment: 19,000 direct and 38,500 indirect.

GVA: £1bn direct and 1.67bn indirect. Approx £0.5bn is generated by the growth & processing of home-grown timber.

Potential GVA in 2025: £2.1bn (Growth from 1995 – 2010: 4% per annum).

Investment in Processing 2000-2010: £0.5bn – world class, modern and efficient facilities.

Trees absorb substantial amounts of carbon, and wood products from forests store carbon and reduce the impact of climate change. Forests are unique in having this double benefit: the more economic activity, the greater the environmental benefit.

Forests cover 17% of Scotland’s Land area. (Government target: 25% by 2050). Accelerating new planting could mean that Scotland delivers more than half of the UK’s total forest industry carbon absorption (7.7 MTCo2 per year).

56% of Britain’s trees are in Scotland. In 2008/9 13,000 ha was planted but most of this was re-stocking and only 3,400 ha was new planting of which only 1,200 ha was of commercial species.

2.7m green tonnes were processed by Scottish sawmills in 2009.

Key Facts

Forests provide an accessible natural environment and tourism amenity for activities such as walking and mountain biking. In addition, the increasing use of sustainable, environmentally friendly materials like timber, both for renewable energy production, and in sustainable construction, has the potential to make a significant contribution and impact.

More importantly, carbon captured by trees as they grow is subsequently locked up for the lifetime of any timber product, whatever use it is put to. Scotland’s forest & timber industries have the capacity to grow by 30% during the next decade.

Scottish Ministers recognise the potential of this sector and will continue to encourage innovation in the use of timber and timber products from Scotland. We will continue to bring businesses together with research, processors and consumer bodies to explore what is technically possible, and to answer the needs of consumers and end-users.

Scotland’s forest and timber industries are one of Scotland’s “hidden assets”. Employing around 40,000 people, and generating £1.7 billion for the economy, these industries play a very important role not just in Scotland’s rural areas, but also to a number of key supply chains in the transition to a Low Carbon economy, thus contributing to sustainable economic growth.

Spanning the complete lifecycle of wood, the industries encompass the growing of tree seedlings, the planting, managing and harvesting of forests, manufacturing activities such as sawmilling, pulp and paper production, panel and board manufacturing, and the development and production of higher value goods such as engineered wood products, as well as renewable energy production from forest and processing co-products, wood chips and pellets.

Timber has over 5,000 uses, with each of us using the equivalent of 12 trees a year in our everyday lives. Products include paper & packaging, furniture, sustainable construction materials and even clothing.

Wood energy is the largest renewable energy sector in the EU providing 66% of all the renewables used. In Scotland, 90% of our renewable heat comes from wood energy. In the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 we set ourselves the objective of reducing CO2 emissions by at least 80% by 2050.

The Forest and Timber industries make a significant contribution to Scotland, and they have done so throughout history. Scotland was once a densely forested country whose forests had grown up naturally over many years. The agricultural revolution saw the clearance of many wooded areas in favour of crops and livestock; and the wood was used for construction, fuel, and to supply emerging industries of the industrial revolution, such as mining and the railways. Such has been the demand for timber that Scotland’s forests diminished to only a small area of land.

In 1919, the Government established the Forestry Commission to plant large areas of woodlands across the UK to replenish the depleted forests. This first initiative was followed after the Second World War by a further wave of private as well as public sector planting.

Fast growing conifers were the favoured species in the new plantations. As a result, Scotland subsequently developed a wood processing industry based on the harvest of this conifer crop. Pulp and panel industries followed, developing a range of products for the paper, packaging, furniture and construction industries – and our modern forest and timber industries were born.

However, despite these waves of new forest creation, only 12% of UK land is currently used for forests and woodlands, whilst across Europe the average is 37%.

Scotland fares slightly better at 17% coverage, but even if doubled, this figure would still be lower than the European average. Woodlands, by their very existence, provide multiple benefits; they create places for recreation, help to promote

health through cleaner air, and provide good habitats in which wildlife can thrive and a diverse environment can flourish.

Perhaps most importantly of all, our forests absorb much of the carbon generated in other parts of the economy and so provide an increasingly important way of mitigating climate change. A larger forest industry offers a big opportunity to support climate change mitigation – indeed, recent research shows that as much as 10% of all carbon emissions in the UK could be absorbed through an expanded forest industry based on more wooded and forested areas.

The Scottish Forest Industries Cluster, now known as Scottish Forest & Timber Technologies, was set up in 2000 with the aim of improving the competitiveness of the industry and increasing the market demand for wood products. Thanks to the planting programmes of the 1950s, 60s and 70s, the forest industries faced

what was then described as a “wall of wood”. The chief concern therefore was to increase the processing capacity to utilise the predicted high volumes of timber that would shortly be available.

The UK is ranked second in Europe for paper and wood product consumption and is therefore an attractive and important export market for forest product manufacturers throughout the world. The market has the potential for continued growth over the coming decades, particularly in relation to timber based in low-carbon and sustainable construction, and renewable energy opportunities. The Scottish industry therefore needs to be clearly market focussed, and alert to new opportunities. It must also be competitive, innovative and have a supply chain fit to maintain, and grow, market share.

Today, we benefit from a modern, growing industry with sustainability at its core. It has the potential to double it’s economic and environmental contribution to Scotland within a generation.

Home grown Scottish timber 

The use of home grown timber has been increasing steadily. This comes from sustainably managed forests with around 80% able to carry internationally recognised labels of environmental sustainability such as the Forest Stewardship Council, FSC or the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification PEFC.

This certification means that forests have been carefully planted, maintained and harvested according to exacting standards that have been independently set and monitored. These standards ensure that new trees are planted to replace those that are removed for manufacturing. They also include a certified chain of custody that tracks the timber through every stage in the supply chain from the forest to the final user. Using home grown timber is environmentally friendly, keeping to a minimum the embodied energy of transport and distribution. Home grown forest products are now produced – and value added – in world class manufacturing facilities.

The Economic Contribution. 

Forests and woodlands play an increasingly important role in our communities and society. It is estimated that over £1bn of social and environmental benefits are generated by the UK’s forests and woodlands, and the use of forests for recreation is worth around £400m to the UK per annum. Recent performance statistics of the Forest & Timber industries indicate economic growth. The sector encompasses a wide range of business’s that use both imported and home grown timber and include sawmilling, wood panels, pulp and paper, pallets, bioenergy (firewood, biomass, and pellets), furniture, construction, crafts, garden and home improvement, and recovered wood and fibre.

The forest and timber industries contribute to the economy both directly and indirectly. The direct economic impact of the forest industries has seen considerable growth over the past decade. The Gross Value Added (GVA) of the forestry & timber industries in Scotland has risen robustly, growing by an average of 4% per cent annually to stand at £1bn, or 1.1 per cent of the Scottish economy.

Whilst employment in the industry has fallen, this is a direct consequence of the significant capital investment that the entire supply chain has made in highly efficient, automated machinery and processing lines. Employment now stands at around 19,000.

In terms of the indirect impact (upon suppliers, downstream industry and expenditure by those employed within the industry itself) there has been a similar annual growth. The total economic impact of the forest industries upon the Scottish economy represents GVA of £1.67 bn and accounts for around 38,500 jobs.

Our vision to 2025, in which we double the size of the industry, would see continued growth of 4% per annum over the next fifteen years. In economic terms, doubling the size of the forest and timber industries in Scotland could add more than £1.1bn to GVA and create a further 10,000 jobs. This sector has been a traditionally strong contributor to the Scottish economy and has evolved, developed and invested significantly over the past century, particularly in the past two decades.

Given the past rate of growth, we consider it to be achievable with the right level of support and enthusiasm from within the sector, Government and its agencies. 

Environmental Factors 

Woodland creation has the potential to provide highly cost-effective and achievable abatement of greenhouse gas emissions compared with potential options in other sectors.

Carbon storage in UK forests has been declining as a result of new-planting rates falling and younger forests, which sequester more carbon than older forests, maturing. Stepping up the new woodland planting rate would help to reverse this decline.

Creating new forests would help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in other ways, for example, by reducing the use of nitrogen fertilisers, which require a high fossil fuel input in their manufacture, and by reducing the emissions of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide from the land.

If the market for wood construction products continues to grow at its current rate over the next 10 years, there is the potential to store an estimated additional 10 million tonnes (Mt) of carbon (equivalent to 36.7 Mt Co2) in new and refurbished homes by 2019.

Within the next five years, sustainably produced woodfuel has the potential to save the equivalent of approximately seven million tonnes of Co2 emissions per year by replacing fossil fuels. The report says the use of biomass for heating provides one of the most cost-effective and environmentally acceptable ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

The Low-Carbon Contribution 

The climate change agenda provides a major opportunity to enhance the contribution that trees and timber make towards the low carbon economy, energy security and the environment. Growing forests absorb substantial amounts of carbon and their wood products continue to store carbon for their lifetime. This is a unique industry: the more economic activity, the greater the environmental benefit. Forests are unique in having this double benefit – in contrast with other land uses or alternative industrial products.

Compared to agriculture, trees require minimal amounts of energy and nutrients to grow – rainfall and sunlight being the main requirements. Compared to most alternative materials, timber contains low embodied energy and offers low carbon solutions for a wide range of needs.

If we are to deal with climate change we will need to use all avenues open to us. It is clear that a new wave of planting of 10,000 ha per annum of productive forest and woodland creation would help a great deal through increased carbon sequestration. In Scotland Co2 removal by forests currently accounts for 12% of greenhouse gas emissions. Such an improved rate of planting could see this rise substantially. In addition, this level of planting could help lock up twice as much carbon in wood-based materials – equivalent to 70MtCo2 in Scotland alone.

How much carbon is in a tree?

Based on Sitka spruce timber, the following comparisons show how much carbon we can store in wood to balance out the carbon emitted by energy usage:

  • A 5 cm x 5 cm x 5 cm block of wood contains the same amount of carbon as would be emitted by boiling a kettle of water or driving a moped 1 km.
  • One cubic metre of timber compares to two return flights to the Mediterranean or driving an HGV from London to Edinburgh.
  • Six cubic metres of timber (i.e. a timber-framed house) is equivalent to driving an average petrol car for a year (11,000 miles).

These examples show how forestry can help mitigate climate change by storing the same amount of carbon in trees as is emitted through energy usage.

Demand for Timber

Today, in the UK, demand for timber and wood products continues to grow, but the rate of new planting has fallen to historically low levels (by more than 75% over the past 20 years).

If domestic sources of timber are not maintained and expanded not only will the contribution of the forest industries be reduced but also, the substantial investment that has been made in wood processing, as well as the downstream industries that use timber products, could be under threat.

The key issue facing the industry over the next decade or two will therefore be to secure the growth, continuity, and predictability of productive timber supply.

Our aim is to achieve the planting of 10,000 ha of new productive forests each year for the next fifteen years. This aim is supportive of the aim expressed in the government’s forestry strategy to achieve 25% land cover by forests in the second half of this century (“Scottish Forestry Strategy”).

This increase in forest cover equates to an additional 650,000 ha of forest. Together with 5000 ha per year of non-productive forest planting this amounts to around 45 years of planting at the increased rate. Land analysis shows that around 33% of the land area of Scotland is relatively unconstrained and could allow forest planting – and in the past as much as 30,000 ha planting per year has been achieved and sustained. The Scottish Government’s Climate Change Delivery Plan endorses the Scottish Forestry Strategy objective of increasing planting.

Ministers have endorsed the Scottish Forestry Strategy target to increase woodland cover to 25% of Scottish land area (by the second half of the century). This will require additional planting levels of up to 15,000 ha/yr, compared with the current average rates of 4,000-5,000 ha/yr. Grant aid under the Scotland Rural Development Programme has not proved a sufficient incentive, and therefore Forestry Commission Scotland is considering alternative approaches to increase afforestation rates.

The key milestone for forestry is to increase planting rates to 10,000 -15,000 hectares/yr by 2015 and to sustain that rate thereafter to maintain the levels of carbon sequestered annually in trees and soils and to support the rapidly growing wood-fuel industry. There is likely to be a need for new models to finance the higher planting rates required.

Future Growth

These figures suggest that our target is realistic, achievable and in line with government policy. The existence of an active wood fuel market means that there is likely to be value from early thinning – and this would improve the quality of the timber at maturity. Forests could provide crops at, for example, fifteen to twenty years (well before maturity) as well as at maturity at around forty to fifty years. There is also a role for the introduction of new, fast growing species. Removing barriers to growth – in particular, streamlining of planning processes to facilitate resource, site and sector development – would accelerate investment and innovation.

The widespread benefits of forestry are such as to merit a presumption in its favour, based on consensus that new planting is beneficial to all. If such a presumption existed, achieving consents and support would be more straightforward, particularly for smaller sites say up to 50 ha. More specifically, the sector needs prioritization and access to the right sort of land that will produce high yields for the trees planted. New forms of leasing arrangements, industry sponsoring, fiscal measures and grower’s organizations are required to stimulate resource development and remove the barriers to growth. An important step has recently been taken through an agreement between the Confederation of Forest Industries ConFor, and the National Farmers Union for Scotland NFUS, that it would be appropriate for up to 1.5% of land use to change from agricultural to forestry.

Paper and wood products lock up carbon, and are recyclable at the end of life. Even wood fuel from sustainable resources is carbon neutral and therefore far greener than many alternative fuels. Moreover, wood used for heat generation is around 90% efficient compared to around 30% for electricity generation.

Government financial support has been crucially important in the past in delivering new forest planting thus enabling the forest industries to become established successfully in Scotland. All society will benefit from the increased mitigation of the effects of climate change and all will benefit from the forest products that will come from these new forests. In contrast to many of the alternative land uses, these forests will be highly productive and will not rely on large inputs of fertilizers and chemicals for their establishment and maintenance.

Streamlining the regulatory and approvals process would speed up the delivery of new planting schemes and bring forward the benefits that flow from them. This is especially important in the context of climate change where every year of inaction will result in grave environmental cost in the near future.

Future Growth 

The UK is ranked second in Europe for paper and wood product consumption and is therefore an attractive and important export market for forest product manufacturers throughout the world. The UK market is the key and dominant target for Scottish timber resource and processing. The Scottish industry therefore needs to be clearly market focussed, and alert to new opportunities. It must also be competitive, innovative and have a supply chain fit to defend, and grow market share. 

To achieve this: 

  • Product innovation, development and differentiation must be a priority. The industry needs to anticipate market opportunities, to understand its ultimate customer’s needs, and add value to the basic sawn product.
  • Processing needs to be seen as part of an inclusive route to market – large to small enterprises, primary and secondary processing, logistics, retail and recovery.

Significant efficiency gains have been made by the processing industry in the application of information technology. The collection, analysis and utilisation of data offer huge opportunities to promote optimisation and encourage lean manufacturing. In sawmilling, for example, the X-ray scanning of logs can present the opportunity to optimise cutting patterns and match log characteristics to products that have greatest market value.

  • Reducing transport and logistics costs is crucially important to the competitiveness of the industry.

These costs form a relatively high proportion of total costs when compared with other industries, and indeed with overseas competitors. There are good reasons for this and they are not easy to tackle. (These include the relative remoteness of Scottish resources, and the often difficult terrain and weather conditions). One avenue that has proved beneficial is the application of e-business throughout the supply chain.

  • Great strides have been taken by Scotland’s timber producers to increase the demand for and market penetration of home grown timber products. The increased use of timber in sustainable construction has been an important driver of this and domestic industry has been very successful in competing against imported timber in many market segments.

The “wood for good” campaign, a generic promotional and marketing campaign, continues to raise awareness in government and amongst architects, engineers and their clients of the value of wood in construction – not just for its beauty, sustainability but also its functionality.

  • Presenting the industry, through marketing and promotion, to the public and other more specialised audiences is vital. The sector needs to clarify the messages to get across, and to target these effectively. The identity or “brand” of home grown timber and forest products is potentially a strong one, and can be linked to green credentials and the climate change agenda. There is a major opportunity to promote the contribution of timber based products to the development of a low carbon economy through wood fuel and biomass for renewable heat and power, and timber for construction (low in embodied energy and high carbon sequestration).

Timber- a sustainable construction material

Using wood instead of other building materials saves on average 0.9 tonnes of carbon dioxide per cubic metre. 3 tonnes of CO2 can be saved by using timber frame from the 20 tonne CO2 footprint of a typical 3 bedroom detached house.

Increasing the timber content, including softwood cladding, can reduce the footprint to 2.4 tonnes – a total reduction of 17.6 tonnes CO2.

Source: Edinburgh Centre for Carbon

Management Report 196, Carbon benefits

of Timber in Construction, 2006 

Wood has the lowest embodied energy of any mainstream building material. A tonne of brick requires four times the amount of energy to produce sawn softwood, concrete five times, glass six times, steel 24 times and aluminium 126 times. Wood has the best thermal insulation properties of any mainstream construction material.

  • 5 times better than concrete
  • 10 times better than brick
  • 350 times better than steel

Source: www.sustainable-construction.co.uk

People and skills 

The forest & timber industry faces big challenges over the next 5 – 10 years if it is to have the labour force available to meet the planting targets and the predicted increase in timber harvesting.

To reach its full potential, the industry must ensure that it has a workforce which can rise to these challenges. The workforce is an ageing and reducing one. Measures are needed to both increase the attractiveness of the sector to new entrants and to retain and develop those already working within it. The industry has identified three key areas in which actions are needed:

Career Pathways & Recruitment


  • Promoting the industry as an attractive career choice is vital. This will require quality information to promote its benefits, its career opportunities and routes for entry and progression.
  • Customised teaching and support materials will be required – not only for students, but also to support teachers and careers advisors.
  • Industry engagement will also be required in the provision of “exciting” and motivational work-experience placements and in-forest/factory visits. 
  • Skills requirements for entry into the industry 

It is widely recognised that the forest industry needs to attract new technical entrants into the workforce. Recent research has suggested that there is a need for significant new recruitment into forest harvesting, establishment and maintenance and ground preparation.


  • Retaining and developing the existing workforce 


The forest industry workforce is dominated by small businesses. 83% employing between 1 and 4 employees with 93% employing less than 10 individuals. At 44%, the forest industry also has a significant number of self employed, the national average being just 13%. As a result of these workforce characteristics, there is a strong desire to develop technical skills within these businesses.

There is however, an increasing awareness that business management skills – i.e. those skills which could help the development of more robust and sustainable businesses – should be incorporated into training support programmes; thereby enabling businesses to become more active in developing both the current and future workforce.

The timber industry workforce has a different employment profile. Whilst 83% of employers employ between 1 and 10 people and only 4% of companies employ 50+ employees, those individuals working in smaller companies only account for 30% of the overall workforce. 

Education and Research 

The creation of the Centre for Timber Engineering at Edinburgh Napier University provided a much needed focus for increasing the capacity and capability of research and education institutions to meet the needs of the forest industry. It is one of very few sector innovation, training and skills development centres across the UK.


 Our objectives need to be clear and reviewed regularly. These are set out in the Strategic Plans for each of the focus areas.

The Plan is as follows:

Grow and communicate the industry’s contribution to Scotland by: 

Making a definitive and comparable quantification of all the main environmental benefits of forestry and timber, especially those relating to climate change and carbon capture.

Ensuring the clarity of messages and the most effective communication to the right target audiences.

Supporting measures that will enhance the contribution of the forest industries to the economy, society and the environment.

Grow the area of new productive forest planting by: 

  • Assuring levels of new productive timber planting of at least 10,000 ha per annum, in line with the Scottish Forestry Strategy.
  • Improving the quality and resistance to climate change of the resource through plant breeding and the introduction of new species.
  • Improving the engagement of forest owners with industry.
  • Promoting the management of the resource in ways that are both sustainable and will improve timber quality and output.

Grow the market share and value added of Scotland’s forest products by: 

  • Improving the efficiency and competitiveness of the timber processing supply chain and enterprises within it.
  • Developing existing and new markets suitable for supply by home grown timber and timber products.
  • Creating new and innovative wood based value added products and services.
  • Work with the construction industry to identify and remove barriers to the increased use of timber in construction. 

Grow the skills and capacity of our people by: 

  • Creating a higher profile of the skills needs of forest industries
  • Improving the identification, articulation and review of training and qualification needs of forest industries.
  • Increasing interest in and recruitment of new entrants into forest industries business environment.

Published by Scottish Enterprise and Forestry Scotland.