The Forestry Commission is planning to sell the 790 hectare Tioran Forest on the Isle of Mull and have advised the community that it has the opportunity to acquire it under the National Forest Land Scheme (NFLS).

I have blogged about Mull and forestry already and how it appears that the Scottish Government is intent on turning the island into a resource colony for distant multinational corporations. The sale of this large public forest adds to that sense of unease.

This sale raises further important questions, however.

If the community is to be successful in taking ownership of this land (and it appears keen to do so), it will have to pay the full market price for the property. I don’t know how much this forest is worth but I would guess one would not get much change from £1 million. Where is a fragile community to raise such a sum of money?

If we are serious about community forestry, there is a better way to go about this. The Forestry Commission owns no land. It is not a landowner. Instead, the land that it manages across Scotland is owned by Scottish Ministers and the FC merely manage it on their behalf.

Section 3(1) of the Forestry Act 1967 states clearly that

3 Management of forestry land.

 (1) The Commissioners may manage, plant and otherwise use, for the purpose of the exercise of their functions under this Act, any land in Scotland placed at their disposal by the Scottish Ministers under this Act or in England and Wales placed at their disposal by the Minister under this Act, and—

(a) the power of the Commissioners under this subsection to manage and use any land shall, without prejudice to the generality of that power, include power to erect buildings or execute works on the land;

(b) any timber produced on land so placed at the Commissioners’ disposal shall belong to the Commissioners.

As an alternative to the complex and expensive process of buying this land, Scottish Ministers could, since the FC no longer with to manage it, simply appoint an appropriately constituted community body on Mull and “place” the forest “at their disposal” under an agreed scheme of delegated authority. This would require a modest amendment to the Act to the effect that Ministers have the power under secondary legislation to appoint other bodies as capable of having the Scottish Ministers’ estate “placed at their disposal”.

No money would change hands. The forest would remain in public ownership and would be managed by local people for the benefit of the Mull economy.

The silliness of the proposed NFLS transfer is illustrated by a similar situation in Cowal, Argyll. On 22 February 2013, Colintraive and Glendaruel Development Trust was awarded a grant of £311,500 from the Scottish Land Fund to part finance the acquisition of the 615 hectare Stronafian Forest in south-west Cowal. The Scottish Land Fund monies come not from the National Lottery as was the case ten years ago (when I was a member of the Fund) but from Scottish Ministers. It is part of the Scottish Consolidated Fund – taxpayers money.

So Scottish Ministers paid £311,500 to Colintraive and Glendaruel Development Trust to part finance the acquisition of a forest being sold by …. Scottish Ministers!

In other countries across Europe, public forests are not the sole responsibility of the State. Regional Governments, Counties and Communes and Municipalities own extensive forests. See the map below for an illustration of this where in France over 20% of public forests are owned by Communes.

See previous blogs which highlight this here and here together with a report and essay on forest ownership in Scotland.

Some years ago I edited an editorial by the historian, James Hunter , in which he observed that “the Forestry Commission is to Scottish forestry what collectivisation was to Soviet agriculture.”

Why is Scottish forestry policy so primitive?


  1. I was at the Community Energy Scotland conference in Perth at the end of 2012. A representative from the Forestry Commision was there and spoke about this subject.

    The long and short of it is:
    1) They have been told to sell of some of there property by the Scottish Government.
    2) Commercial interests will get first choice of any land, (be allowed to ‘cherry pick’.)
    3) Their prefered option for community organisations is for them to lease (feu ?) the land.

    Really they don’t want community involvement and are going to make it as difficult/unattractive as possible for them.

    It’s the ‘country landowners all over again!

  2. No doubt FCS actions are bound up in the usual regulatory noose out with which they can not legally wriggle, until the regulations are altered to accommodate and embrace the objects from the forth coming Community Renewable and Empowerment Bill. Perhaps it’s time for Ministers to loosen and align the FCS regulatory objectives with the Bill.

  3. Graham Ennis

    This is another example of the relentless drift to the political right and away from the people of the SNP Government. They appear to have been captured by the senior civil service cadre, and the influence of the “Manchurian class” of historical and contemporary land owners and feudalists, (exactly as in Imperial China), who hold the land from inheritance by conquest, or collaboration with the occupiers and colonialists. Even worse, incomers using London sourced capital,buying up and land banking property as entry-ism into the rural power structure. Three hundred years of this, and it has reduced the land to a desert of wrecked forests, grouse moors, Deer devastated landscapes, etc……. Just awful.

    When are the Scottish People going to wake up, and see what is happening?….
    The feudal land holders have the same dominance in Scotland as in some Latin American banana republic. There, the “Latifundistas” use it as aa power base, for control and dominance. I actually cannot see any difference, personally. Why does Scotland have a system of land-wealth based political and social power identical to that of Guatamala?…..unbelievable.

    These land holder-Oligarch’s have to have their system of power broken. It was broken in Ireland, in the 1880’s, by mass action and protest, and although it took semi-insurrection, it worked. Bolivia actually has aa more progressive land reform program than Scotland.

    This takes me to the heart of the matter. A core of the SNP leadership are now being co-opted by the power-holders, exactly as they were, historically, in Ireland, and for the same ends. What you are going to see, in Scotland, is NOT real independence, but an identical clone of the so-called “Irish Free State” of 1921…….which was still under a Governor General, kept the financial controls of the Sterling currency, the English dominated financial and banking system, etc…….and was socially reactionary. It led to a civil war in Ireland, and the imposition of a reactionary political aand social class in the country. Incredible, that this is going on, right under everyone’s noses, and no one is saying anything?… everyone in Scotland asleep? . Time to start shouting that the Emperor has no clothes. long live De Valera!…….(I am being ironic and sarcastic here).

  4. Post Scriptum:
    Come to think of it, “Long Live Generalissimo Noreaga”, as well.
    Why do I suspect, with cclimate change, that eventually a Scottish G oveernment will have to bring in a “Cultivation of Bananas:(Prohibition) Act?……otherwise unfortunate comparisons with Central America might arise.

  5. Jamie McIntyre

    Regarding Stuart’s comments above, I think the policy he reports actually describes (roughly) the position in respect of renewables development (which would fit the context in which he heard it, ie the CES conference).

    The position regarding selling land is a bit different. FCS have not been tasked with selling assets (apart from those surplus to requirements, like most public bodies at the present time). They do however operate what they call the ‘repositioning programme’ which is described in more detail at and is worth studying, as many people are unaware of this programme and its consequences (intended, and otherwise).

    The programme involves selling land FCS considers is making the least contribution to their objectives, and using the proceeds mainly to purchase land for planting (or woodlands), primarily close to urban areas. On the face of it this sounds good but there are a number of issues which demand proper public discussion. These include the external consultation involved in identifying woodland to be sold (there isn’t any), and the long term consequences of the programme (for example the withdrawal of FCS from large areas of the Highlands, where arguably the impact is greater than elsewhere).

    The NFLS that Andy refers to is in general a great scheme (putting aside his a point as to whether it should be necessary in the first place) and under the ‘repositioning programme’ communities are at least offered land to be sold via the NFLS first. However this is not a route to prevent a sale and keep the land in public ownership, it merely gives the community the opportunity to purchase at full market value with all the attendant challenges that implies.

    The NFLS itself has a number of weaknesses though and together with the way FCS woodlands are disposed of under the repositioning programme (in large sales of maximum value rather than multiple smaller lots, at least in the Highlands) the end result is that more often than not public woodland is being transferred to large estates, external investors and timber companies, rather than local interests (whether formal community groups or simply ordinary local residents).

    This is clearly a very significant issue and not surprisingly a number of representations to the Land Reform Review Group have been made on this and wider forestry matters. Some of these are published elsewhere on Andy’s site and are well worth reading, because there is an urgent need for a debate about forestry in Scotland, not least to ask: in whose interest is it being run?

    • Apologies and thanks to Jamie McIntyre for drawing attention to my critical omission.

      Yes it was indeed to do with renewables for example coppicing but could also include amenity use, the one doesn’t preclude the other. and as stated while communities could buy FCS preferred to lease thereby retaining ownership of the land.

  6. On this I do agree with Andy that the robbing Peter to pay Paul that goes on in the public sector is a piece of nonsense. It wouldn’t matter if it were cost neutral but it involves massive leakage of public funds to pay ranks of accountants and lawyers to audit this money-go-round between civil servants jealously guarding their fiefdoms.

    That said, the NFLS and the SLF have a certain logic. The Scottish Government has said, in effect, it will pay for £Xm of land to be taken into community ownership. That can be by purchasing private land or (in effect) giving away public land up to a max value of £Xm. You could have a debate about whether that sum should be increased or even made infintely inexhaustable. But meantime at least a level playing field between private purchase and public giveaway is maintained with the balance between the two being determined via the SLF decision making process.

    Jamie McIntyre makes a good point about lack of public consultation on what land is surplus to FC’s “out of fashion” requirements (Scottish islands) fit to be sold to fund their “latest fad” (urban fringes) – although having said that, is this not consistent with a Scottish Forestry Strategy (or similar) put out to consultation some years ago? Perhaps not.

    Final minor point is that, although Forestry Commission land technically belongs to the Scottish Ministers, sale proceeds of FC land go to the FC, not the SMs (although it’s all public money, at the end of the day).