Scottish Tenant Farmers Association

News Release

 19th December 2017


The Scottish Tenant Farmers Association is calling on Forestry Commission Scotland to refuse applications for woodland creation on arable land on the banks of the River Spey in the Cairngorm National Park. STFA considers that arable land is a scarce commodity in the CNPA area and a valuable asset which should not disappear under trees for the short-term gain of taxation benefits and forestry grants.


The STFA has been responding to the Forestry Commission’s consultation on proposals to plant trees on arable land on Pityoulish Estate by Scottish Woodlands on behalf of the owners. Pityoulish consists of approximately 880ha, with more than 700ha being heather hill, plantations, marshland etc., about 90ha ploughable and the rest rough grazing. The estate is already quite heavily wooded and the plans are to create a further 140ha of Native Woodland, regenerate 100ha of Caledonian Pine Wood and plant over 112ha of Commercial Woodland on the better land.

The owners plan to manage the balance of unplanted land with a mixture of grazing licences, contract farming and environmental schemes. The application emphasises the relationship between commercial forestry and farming and observes that, by planting a proportion of agricultural fields the feel and appearance of a mixed farm and forestry landscape will be maintained.  However, STFA believes that the reality is that the proposed management regime will prove uneconomic, difficult to manage and will soon lead to a further application to plant trees on the rest of the land.

Commenting on the planting proposal, STFA Chairman Christopher Nicholson said; “This woodland creation application flies in the face of the agreement reached by the cross industry Woodland Expansion Advisory Group, that decisions on tree planting proposals should take account of the quality of the land in a local context. Plainly arable land is a scarce commodity in the Highlands in general and the CNP area in particular, and STFA believe that it should be maintained as farmland for the sake of future generations.

“STFA is aware that, influenced by the prospect of falling returns from upland farming, there are a number of landowners who are making similar plans to plant trees on farmland. The current drive to meet increased planting targets through advantageous planting grants, favourable Capital Gains Tax and Inheritance Tax regime for woodlands, a tax-free crop on harvesting, combined with the ability to continue to access agricultural payments as “in hand” farmers make woodland creation the obvious answer.

“STFA, however, believes this is a short-term fix driven by generous government incentives which will be regretted by future generations looking for land to produce food. In this case a potentially valuable farming unit is to be taken out of agricultural production in an area where arable land is at a premium.  STFA has recommended refusal of consent to plant trees at Pityoulish in the wider and longer term public interest.  Instead we would suggest that the owners should consider the use on the new Repairing Tenancies as a way of retaining ownership of the land whilst increasing the capital value of the land in the longer term.  Agriculture is going through a period of uncertainty but that is no reason to sterilise some of our productive upland units with trees by a short term gut reaction.”