Page last updated at 12:45 GMT, Friday, 13 March 2009

Ministers scrap forest lease plan

Scottish forest
Opponents claimed that public access could be restricted by the plans

Controversial plans to lease up to a quarter of Forestry Commission land in Scotland to private companies have been abandoned.

The Scottish Government said that after consultation, it had decided not to go ahead with the scheme.

Ministers had previously claimed the move could raise up to 200m to help reverse the effects of global warming.

But opposition politicians, unions and some forest users expressed concern about job security and public access.

Environment minister Roseanna Cunningham said Forestry Commission Scotland would now work to develop other options to raise money for tree planting.

"Forests and woodlands play an important role in the fight against climate change," she said.

"By planting more trees we can lock up more carbon and reduce the harmful impact our emissions have on the planet."

Greenhouse targets

The Scottish Government has a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050.

It would have been damaging for the Forestry Commission, public access and wildlife projects
Sarah Boyack MSP
Labour environment spokeswoman

The lease scheme would have transferred the management of Forestry Commission land to private companies for a 75-year period with the fees used for tree planting.

Ms Cunningham said alternative options might include UK Government tax breaks for tree planting, and incentives under the Scotland Rural Development Programme.

Opponents claimed a loss of income could impact on recreational and environmental activities currently cross-subsidised by timber production.

Labour described the decision not to go ahead with the scheme as a "humiliating climbdown".

Environment spokeswoman Sarah Boyack said: "It would have been a huge mistake to lease out large swathes of our forests for the next seven or eight decades.

"It would have been damaging for the Forestry Commission, public access and wildlife projects."

'Family silver'

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Tavish Scott said the government had performed a u-turn over plans "to sell off Scotland's family silver".

For the Conservatives, John Scott welcomed the decision. He said it was time to "move on" and focus on other joint venture projects to raise money for new investement.

The Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT) praised ministers for listening to its concerns about wildlife protection under the leasing plan.

SWT director of conservation Jonny Hughes said: "To lease out 25% of our public forest estate would have substantially eroded the role of the Forestry Commission.

"That in turn would have had a detrimental impact on individual species, habitats and future action to adapt to climate change across Scotland."

Forestry Commission Scotland serves as the Scottish Government's forestry directorate, managing 667,000 hectares of woodland.

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