Angela Douglas: Farmers doing their bit for climate in their own neck of the woods

The relationship between farming and forestry – and sheep and trees – has not always been a perfect one.

Friday, 20th March 2020, 6:03 am
Angela Douglas is Executive Director of Scotland's Finest Woods Awards.
Angela Douglas is Executive Director of Scotland's Finest Woods Awards.

Yet, across Scotland, there are more and more great examples of ­woodland sitting at the heart of a farm or croft business – offering ­shelter to livestock, delivering fuel for the farm, or playing a central part in a long-term diversified rural business plan. Or, in some cases, all three.

Scotland’s Finest Woods Awards sought to capture and showcase some of these exemplars by ­introducing our Farm Woodland Award two years ago – then adding a Young ­People’s Award (in addition to the overall prize) last year.

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In 2020, the 35th anniversary of our awards programme, both Farm Woodland Awards are back and we are confident of adding to our list of outstanding winners so far.

In 2018, Peter Gascoigne, who farms near Broughton in Peeblesshire, won the first Farm Woodland Award and articulated very simply and clearly what woodland had done for him: “Our main farming enterprise is breeding quality lambs, and this can only be achieved in my opinion by creating warmth and shelter by planting trees, given the altitude of the farm.”

Judges were thoroughly impressed by the efforts of Mr Gascoigne, who had planted a mix of softwood trees for commercial use and hardwoods “to be retained for future generations”.

They said: “Mr Gascoigne’s efforts are an inspiration to others considering planting woodlands on their farms. He is conscious of landscape design, with biodiversity, wildlife and conservation all factored into the woodland mix.”

They said he had “demonstrated the direct ­benefit of the woodland to the agricultural business with ­productive conifer woodland ­starting to yield returns and more productive, better quality lambs being produced”.

Gascoigne Farm Ltd set the bar high and Kilrie Farm near Kirkcaldy, Fife, maintained the high standard in 2019. Kilrie won the ‘any age’ Farm Woodland Award, with judges ­praising another “excellent example of an integrated woodland on a farm”.

Already the woodlands are generating significant employment and clear plans are in place to ­manage the woodlands in the very long term, ­adding value from the ­forestry ­business to the farm.

Peter Gascoigne was highly ­commended and a farm woodland at Dalry, Ayrshire, and a croft ­woodland at Lagandorain on the isle of Iona, were also awarded commendations. It was brilliant to see such an ­amazing ­geographical spread of entries, as well as such high quality.

The new Farm Woodland Award for younger farmers or crofters (and/or their woodland managers) in 2019 was won by the outstanding Lynn Cassells and Sandra Baer for Lynbreck Croft, near Grantown-on-Spey in the Highlands.

After being presented with the award at the Royal Highland Show, Lynn said: “We have tried to achieve full integration of the trees and woodland into the croft business. They are a valuable asset in terms of shelter for animals and fuel for us – as well as everything they do for biodiversity and soaking up carbon.”

In 2020, we are looking for more terrific examples of where trees and woods on farms are managed by ­people who want to add value to the farm business but understand the environmental significance of woodlands too.

We know there are lots of great farm woodlands out there. When Fergus Ewing MSP announced last June that Scotland had “smashed” its 2018/19 new planting target of 10,000 hectares, smaller-scale planting was a big part of it.

Almost half of the new planting of 11,200 hectares was on sites of 50 ­hectares (125 acres) or less, reflecting a growing understanding of the value of woodland creation on farms and crofts.

Our judges are looking for exemplary use of woodland and agricultural practice, with benefits to the farming/crofting operation and quality woodland management.

This might mean generating income from sustainably managed woods; using biomass, fuelwood or wood chips on site or selling these as a renewable energy; creating new woodlands to offset carbon produced from agricultural operations; or planting and using trees for livestock shelter, sporting interests, amenity or other objectives.

Does that sound like you? If so, there’s cash and stunning trophies to be won. For entry criteria, details on the other awards (new woods – native and commercial, three quality timber competitions, community ­woodlands and school projects), go to www.sfwa.co.uk

The ­deadline for entries is 31 March.

Angela Douglas is executive director of Scotland’s Finest Woods Awards.