Forest Research’s Land Use and Ecosystem Services Science Group and Social and Economic Research Group and the James Hutton Institute’s Safeguarding Natural Capital Research Theme hosted an ESCom Series event exploring Woodland Expansion at the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation in Edinburgh, Tuesday 19th January 2016. The workshop briefed attendees on the drivers, opportunities and challenges in creating new woodlands and facilitated discussion on the how researchers, policy makers and practitioners can work together.
Within the Scottish Forestry Strategy is a target to increase woodland cover from 18% to 25% by 2050. This has evolved into an aspiration to achieve 100,000 hectares by 2022. However, woodland creation is not progressing at a rate to achieve these ambitions for a variety of reasons. The workshop brought together policy makers, practitioners and researchers to explore the drivers, barriers, and opportunities of woodland expansion and the tools to address some of these issues. Presentations exploring challenges and opportunities that woodland expansion could bring was followed by group discussions to identify the key issues for woodland expansion from the perspectives of research producers and research users to help identify where future work should focus and how best to deliver evidence.
The workshop began with Sandra Luque (University of St Andrews & IRSTEA, France) providing a European perspective on forest cover and the challenges faced in a changing climate. The regional differences in tree species suitability, growth rates and risk from biotic and abiotic factors provided a useful parallel for the variation experienced across Scotland. It also highlighted the need to consider adaptation of current and future forests to ensure that the needs of future generations can be met. Alison Hester (James Hutton Institute) brought the focus on to Scotland, where the drivers for woodland expansion have changed over the last one hundred years to influence the types of woodland created. The early emphasis on productive conifer plantations evolved to encompass broadleaved and mixed woodlands that together provide a range of benefits: recreation, biodiversity, flood regulation, landscape and many others. Alison described how these woodlands help Scotland to meet its European and national obligations related to biodiversity and climate, whilst recognising that trade-offs with other land-uses need to be carefully assessed using spatial analysis. The next two presentations demonstrated how spatial tools have been applied to determine opportunities for woodland expansion. First, Louise Sing (Forest Research) explained work undertaken for the Woodland Expansion Advisory Group to “identify more closely which types of land are best for tree planting in the context of other land-based objectives …. to secure multiple benefits”. The spatial analysis took account of biophysical and biological suitability, and national designations & policies to identify potential areas for woodland expansion that could be explored in more detail at a local level. This highlighted there is a lot of potential for woodland expansion in Scotland – around 2.69 million ha (34%). Justin Irvine (James Hutton Institute) then presented the Land Use Strategy toolkit that was developed for the Aberdeenshire Regional Land Use Pilot to aid decisions about land use change, rank areas for woodland expansion (and other objectives) and to highlight trade-offs. The tool allows exploration of how land use might change under a medium prediction for climate change when considering a number of policy relevant themes (including woodland expansion). Rather than predicting change, the tool prompts users to think about change through adjusting priorities, such as housing, biodiversity, water and agriculture.
Dave Edwards (Forest Research) provided detail on the cultural, social and economic factors affecting woodland expansion and influencing decision-making. Contrary to popular belief, financial incentives are only one of the factors influencing decisions to create woodland.
Dave concluded by discussing how we approach the development and provision of woodland expansion information. Increasingly we are all realising that scientific evidence must be re-interpreted by practitioners and decision-makers for it to be of any use to them. The traditional ‘knowledge transfer’ paradigm (where the problem is simply a matter of ‘packaging’ the findings in the right way) doesn’t always work, and we need to move towards ‘dialogue’, and a better understanding (by researchers) of the context in which evidence is expected to be used.
This much more interactive approach of co-production of knowledge involving all parties formed the focus of the group discussions, where participants in mixed groups were asked to identify what the different users of research need to facilitate woodland expansion and how research could be developed to inform and support them. Common themes were identified across the four groups and have been summarised into five areas: Knowledge production, Knowledge use, Communication and education, Incentives to woodland expansion, and Opportunity areas (Appendix 1). These areas provide a focus for research providers and research users to work together more effectively on moving the woodland expansion agenda forward.
We plan to hold another ESCom Scotland Series in the future to work on these areas and welcome interest from anyone who wants to get involved.
Darren Moseley, Forest Research
The Workshop presentations: