It was announced today that the Scottish Government is to spend £3m on building a pier to export timber from Mull’s forests and “boost the island’s timber business”. Whilst this may boost the timber harvesting business, it does nothing for the forestry economy and even less for the development of Mull’s economy. It is good news for the state forest service, for Mull’s mainly absentee investment forestry owners (part of a wider problem of absentee private ownership), and for the multinational companies which own the large sawmills in the south of Scotland and north of England. But it weakens the Mull economy by making it easier to extract and export the island’s natural resources.
In Norway, most sawmills “are located in rural areas, close to the raw material sources and with an important role in local economy and employment.” They produce around 2.3 million cubic metres of sawn timber per year from a forest resource of 96,325 square kilometres. Scotland produces 1.7 million cubic metres of sawn timber per year from a forest resource of 13,850 square kilometres.
Here is a medium-scale sawmill in Sjak kommune in Norway.
Sjak kommune has a population of 2280 people and has 9500ha of forest. Mull has a population of 2667 and around 10,000ha of forest,
Sjak kommune has two sawmills, and a timber house factory – illustrated below. All these industries are community-owned. Mull has no sawmills that I am aware of – the nearest one is in Morvern – Sound Wood.
Scotland’s idea of rural economic and industrial development is stuck in an unimaginative rut dominated by elite state and private industrial interests. Those of us who have been long arguing for a different development model have made little or no headway.
No Government Minister would stand up in Norway and proudly announce a £3 million investment to EXPORT an island’s raw materials. This money would be far better spent investing in timber processing and ancillary industries on Mull to boost jobs and investment in the Mull economy.
UPDATE 15 February 2013
The Forestry Commission has published a page with details of the project.