AS the industry brings to an end a year of celebrations marking 100 years of the Forestry Act and the establishment of the Forestry Commission to restore the country’s woods and forests, attention is now sharply focussed on the next 100 years and the role this critical industry will play in shaping Scotland’s future. 

A hidden gem of the Scottish economy, the forestry and timber processing sector has seen significant growth over the last decade. 

In 2015 a study by CJC Consulting, commissioned by the then Forestry Commission Scotland, now Forestry and Land Scotland, put the sector’s annual economic contribution at £1 billion, supporting over 25,000 jobs.

The ambition is to double the sector’s contribution to £2 billion by 2030, with an emphasis on increased timber harvesting and processing, as well as woodland creation. 

The demand for sustainable building materials to meet the country’s housing needs and a shift towards less reliance on imported timber and paper continues to be a driver for this sector. 

But new woodland is also critical. 

In 2018/19 alone, Scotland planted 11,200 new hectares of woodland – the equivalent of 22 million trees. 

The Scottish Government is committed to increasing woodland cover from 18 per cent to 21% by 2032 through new planting and reforestation. 

Woodland creation is key to Scotland achieving its Net Zero 2050 targets, as trees lock up carbon, reducing the amount of harmful greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.  Indeed, every tree will become a soldier in the fight against climate change. 

Add to this the value of forestry to Scotland’s iconic landscape, the rich biodiversity our woodlands support and the important contribution to people’s health and wellbeing, you begin to see why this sector is so critical to the future of this country. 
But with opportunities come challenges. The sector has an ageing workforce which will need to be replaced over time. 

This has been recognised by the Scottish Government which brought together a wide range of stakeholders from both the private and public sectors in June of this year at two Forestry Skills Summits, first in Inverness and then in Dumfries. This was then followed by the recently published Review of the Future Forestry Workforce in Scotland. 

READ MORE: Sustaining the future of Scotland’s forestry 

The findings suggest that six sub-sectors of the industry will need to recruit up to 70% of its existing workforce over the next 10 years. 

This isn’t just to replace those who retire and those who leave through natural attrition but to meet the increased activity in both woodland creation and harvesting.
All of this is happening against a backdrop of fewer forestry-related education providers in Scotland. 

At the Scottish School of Forestry, part of the University of the Highlands and Islands, we are in a unique position to respond to both the challenges and the opportunities this future growth in workforce presents. 

We are currently the only provider of undergraduate Higher Education in Forest Management and the only provider of both Higher and Further Education in Forestry in the UK. 

Offering programmes for secondary school pupils through to honours degree, as well as commercial courses, work-based and distance learning options, the Scottish School of Forestry has over 45 years of delivering training, at all levels, to industry. 

We value our industry partners who help us keep our curriculum current and fit for purpose, providing our students with industry insight through guest lectures, industry awards, site visits, work placements, trips and events, meaning our graduates are industry-ready when they leave us.

Forestry, like other rural land-based sectors, suffers from an outdated perception. When people think about forestry, they think of flannel shirts and chainsaws. 
Of course, there’s still lots of manual work, but today’s sector is now heavily technology-driven, requiring a high degree of skills and expertise. 

Our students train to operate harvesters using the latest industry-specific computer simulation technology, while on the ground foresters are using virtual reality headsets to load timber and drones help forest managers collect data quickly. 

READ MORE: A modern vision for forestry 

The sector also needs a workforce with diverse skills and expertise: tree breeders and growers to work in nurseries; forest managers who understand soils and what tree to plant in any given location; harvesting managers who can accurately measure the timber that can come out of a forest and how to manage that process; ecologists to make sure we discharge our responsibilities for looking after the environment and recreation rangers who can help visitors get the most enjoyment from our forests. 

Now is the opportune time to attract young people into our sector. With the recently recognised climate emergency requiring more tree planting and greater use of sustainable resources, our sector offers a practical way for young people to make a difference. 

We’ve come a long way in 100 years and have a lot to be proud of, but it’s time to get the message out that the forestry sector is one for the future, not the past.
Amanda Bryan, is head of the Scottish School of Forestry, Inverness College UHI.