Forest Ownership in Scotland

Westwater plantation in Dumfries-shire – owned by a landowner in Surrey and granted over £1 million in Scottish forestry grants.

Last year I was commissioned by the Forest Policy Group to undertake research into who owns Scotland’s forests. The report of my conclusions is published today and copies can be downloaded here.

It’s a remarkable picture – the most concentrated pattern of private ownership anywhere in Europe. The graphs below illustrate the stark contrast.

An essay published in Scotland on Sunday on 27 February explores some of the background to this and the report of course provides all the background and data. The Scottish Government has budgeted £36 million per year over next 3 years for new forestry. I do not think it too much to ask that this money be used to maximum benefit. Currently much is being handed over to wealthy absentee landlords to boost their tax-free investment portfolio. When I was at University 25 years ago, there was a wonderful geography professor, the late Sandy Mather who wrote in an academic paper in 1987

There has been no stated policy towards ownership structure. Whether by design or by default, the state has exerted an influence of fundamental significance for the structure of forest ownership through its choice of policy instruments. Whether by design or default, the state has facilitated the expansion of financial ownership of forests in Scotland. (1)

That was 25 years ago. Little has changed. But it could yet.


You can hear an interview I did for BBC Scotland’s Out of Doors programme on the topic here.

(1)  A.S. Mather, 1987. ˜The Structure of Forest Ownership in Scotland: a first approximation Journal of Rural Studies, Vol. 3 (2) pp.175-182. Available here.