There are currently over 22,600 Ha of woodland in the Forest area, a figure that will gradually increase to around 34,000 Ha as the Forest develops. These woodlands will provide many benefits such as improving the image of the area, providing places for people to enjoy the outdoors, helping to restore derelict land, producing wood for timber industries and providing opportunities for training and employment.
However, all these woodlands have to be carefully managed, otherwise they become overgrown, derelict and unproductive and no longer provide the range of benefits intended. Work might include tree management (thinning, felling and replanting) to promote tree growth and produce wood, habitat management to encourage wildlife, or path management to improve recreational value - or more likely all three!
While some grants are available to encourage woodland work, one of the principle sources of income to support forestry is from the sale of wood. As well as producing a financial return, management for timber production makes sure that young trees are being planted to replace old trees and the long term future of the woodland is safeguarded.
Woodlands in the Central Scotland Forest fall into two main categories. About two thirds of the resource is larger scale commercial forestry comprising a large proportion of more productive species such as spruce, larch and pine. The remaining third is smaller scale mixed deciduous woodland mainly comprising pine, beech, birch and sycamore with some oak and ash.
Both these types of woodlands are welcome as each contributes in its own way to the scale and quality of the Forest. However, they are very different in terms of wood production and have very different management requirements.
The larger plantations were designed with wood production primarily in mind and income from timber sales underpins future investment and management. Wood arising from these plantations is generally sent to large wood processing plants such as the Caberboard plant at Cowie, Stirlingshire which produces fibreboard and chipboard, the James Callender sawmill at Falkirk and the Caledonian Paper plant at Irvine (see next section on Forest Products)
In contrast, the smaller mixed and deciduous woods produce only small quantities of timber, much not suitable for processing. Historically these woods were valued by local landowners to provide a local supply of wood and cover for game. However in recent times they have become increasingly peripheral to mainstream farming activities resulting in neglect and loss of productivity as well as a decline in their value in the landscape.
The future of these woods depends on investment in their management. Some public subsidy is available but, to secure a sustainable future for these woods in the current land economy, a key requirement will be their gradual return to productive management
This will not be easy. The wood resource is generally of very low quality because of the recent lack of management, hardwood markets are poorly developed and woodland blocks are small so there are no economies of scale.
This problem is not unique to the Central Belt and there are a number of initiatives across the country to develop hardwood markets. Specific opportunities include the use of mobile saw mills, shared kilning facilities, adaptation of farm machinery for woodland work, stock piling in order to satisfy large or specialist orders, development of innovative, high value products using low grade hardwoods, and environmental "branding" of products.
Work in the CSF is beginning to address this issue locally. Special grants are available in the area to undertake work to bring woodlands back into productive management and free advice is available to all woodland owners. Plans are also being developed to encourage the development and expansion of local wood using businesses.