Monday, October 13, 2008

Native Regrowth the same as Plantations - Scotland

Forest owners the world over will recognise a serious outbreak of common sense by the Scottish Parliament when it recently gave naturally regenerated forests the same status as plantation forests under their reforms of the crofting system. It is a simple statement of the bleeding obvious that has proven to be far beyond the wit of numerous centralised, metropolitan dominated governments in many parts of the world of late. And it is no coincidence that this newly devolved legislative power was able to cut through the smoke, the spin and the mirrors of urban green agendas to actually focus on the situation on the ground and implement measures designed to expand the area of woodland habitat and enhance the ecological, social and economic values of the community they serve.

The Scottish "crofting system" had evolved from the ancient feudal system with a form of tennant farming by "crofters" who leased a small plot of land from a landowner at essentially unimproved rates. The lease bestowed a right to enjoy the improvements and often came with a right to rent or own outright the cottage that came with it. This crofting lease could be handed down by way of inheritance but it also carried an obligation to maintain farming activities like cultivation of crops etc. If the crofter ceased cultivation (abandoned the use) the lease was forfeited. Crofted land often also came with common grazing lands that were managed by a committee elected by the crofters with each crofter entitled to run a small number of animals in the common herd.

Unlike a sequence of Australian state administrations who have done little to maintain small farming enterprises, the crofting system was maintained as an important tool in keeping small communities viable. Few crofters were full time farmers with most having some sort of off-farm income or trade. In many cases neither of these options were viable on their own due to the small size of the local community but it was the combination of both income sources that kept local families and their community viable.

But as times changed, more and more crofting communities were seeking broader options for the management of both their individual plots and the community lands, beyond traditional farming activities. And foremost amongst those options was the establishment or expansion woodlands for both timber production and ecological ammenity. In the past, any trees on the crofted lands remained the property of the land owner. And much like leasehold land in Australia, any new trees that grew from the seeds of existing trees became the property of the land owner (the state). The crofters were left with no incentive to allow any additional trees to grow and significant incentives to prevent new tree growth with dilligent pasture maintenance activities.

And to their credit, the Scottish Parliamentarians actually consulted with landowners and crofters in a process that was not entirely subordinated to the fiat of distant, illinformed greens, as is the case in Australia. The crofters and landowners understood from their own direct experience that a forested woodland can be established and expanded either by way of planting additional trees or by allowing, and assisting, natural processes to do the job for free.

This is not a radical notion. In 1997, the CIFOR conference on the "Ecology and management of tropical secondary forest: science, people and policy:" see reached the key conclusion that natural regeneration could only be properly managed and encouraged to expand if it was given the same legal status, and security of harvest, as plantation forest.

Indeed, in the IPA Review (9/1999), "Plantations 2020's myopic vision", I wrote;

"Assisted regeneration of local native species is world best-practice forestry. That was the conclusion of the Second International Pro-Silva Congress, held in The Netherlands in 1997. When possible, regenerating a forest is the best economic and ecological option to expand productive forests—but an unholy alliance of greens, bureaucrats and plantation interests is not keen for this message to spread here."

Governments in Australia have given no security of harvest to native forests that have been re-established on previously cleared land and have gone out of their way to deliver unfair advantages to planted forests that deliver lower quality wildlife habitat.

But the Scottish Parliament followed a simple logic. see

"5.4 The Land Reform Policy Group (LRPG) recommended that there should be legislation to clarify the right of crofters to plant trees on their land and to give them a clear right to exploit the trees they plant for timber and other purposes including the right to sell the timber and timber products. The aim is to provide that where a crofter forestry scheme has been created the crofter (or crofters where the scheme is on a common grazing) has the exclusive right to cut, abstract, use and sell the timber and other forestry products derived from the woodlands created through the scheme. It should further provide that this should be the case whether the woodlands were planted by the crofter or were the result of a regeneration scheme." (my emphasis)

Essentially, If they want people to grow trees on their land then they must be assured that they can harvest those trees in future. And if more trees are better than some trees then all forest establishment methods must be equally encouraged.

Under section 26 of the "Crofting Reform etc Act 2007", section 50 of the Crofters (Scotland) Act 1993 (use of common grazings for forestry purposes)- was amended by, among others, the insertion of ;

"(3B) The reference in subsection (1) above to using as woodlands is to having the right to exclusive economic and recreational use, including (without prejudice to that generality)—
(a) felling, removing, selling and replacing the trees in question;
(b) collecting trimmings, fallen timber, foliage, sap, flowers, fruit, seeds or nuts for use or sale;
(c) grazing animals in the woodlands; and
(d) selling timber, timber products and other forestry products,"

This was followed up by the insertion of a new section "50A Joint forestry ventures etc." with;

(1) A crofter who holds a right in a common grazing, or a grazings committee, may, with the agreement of the Commission, enter into a written agreement with the owner of the common grazing that they shall engage in a joint forestry venture to use woodlands as part of the common grazing concerned; and subject to subsection (4) below that agreement shall bind the parties to it and their successors.

(2) Subject to the terms of any agreement under subsection (1) above, where there are, on part of a common grazing which is to be used as woodlands by virtue of section 50 of this Act, trees other than such as are mentioned in paragraph 11(d) of Schedule 2 to this Act, the owner and the grazings committee may agree—
(a) that those trees are to be sold to the committee at current value; or
(b) that the owner is to be entitled to a share of the timber obtained from such use, being a share which is proportionate having regard to the numbers, respectively, of those trees and of the trees planted (or obtained from planned natural regeneration of the trees planted) (my emphasis) in the course of such use."

And clarified by sub section (8);

"(8) In subsection (2)(b) above “planned natural regeneration” means regeneration which takes place in accordance with—
(a) an agreement entered into under or by virtue of this Act or of any other enactment; or
(b) the conditions of—
(i) any grant for purposes which include such regeneration and which is paid out of the Scottish Consolidated Fund; or
(ii) such other grant of a public nature as may be prescribed."

The effect of these provisions is to maintain the principle that trees that are actually planted on the crofter's individual leased land remain the property of the crofter. It also ensures that existing natural trees on the individual croft, and planted ones that have since been vested to the landowner, remain the property of the landowner, as do any existing trees on the common grazing lands. But in respect of the common grazing lands, it allows for agreements to be made between the owner and the committee of crofters, that will recognise those situations when the crofters have planned to expand a forestry purpose (a woodland) onto the grazing land by either planting or deliberate and assisted natural regeneration. In these situations the trees produced by both methods, and all their future replacements, are the property of the Crofters.

These legislative tools enable the parties in the crofting scheme to remove all ambiguity in relation to the use of native forest on the subject land.

It confirms the existing lawful use for forestry enjoyed by the landowner in respect of all trees that are present prior to the date of the agreement.

It maintains the default sequence where additional regenerated trees that have not been established under a formal agreement remain the property of the landowner.

It enables a clear and formal statement of intent to expand a native forest on to existing pasture land, or to add additional trees to an existing landscape that has both pasture and trees.

It identifies the lawful purpose to which the trees that are produced will be put to. and

It confirms "the right to exclusive economic and recreational use", including all the normal and necessary attributes of a forestry purpose that are outlined in the new section 3(B)

And as a consequence of these properly conceived and implemented measures, Scotland will get the exanded woodland habitats that their good governance deserves.

The same cannot be said for most states in Australia where the essence of "fraudulent conversion", the denial of existing property rights over regenerated native forest, is the central plank of the policy approach. The cutting or even trimming of a single tree is defined as "Development" that cannot take place without consent. In essence, the pruning of one branch on a single tree, even by the owner of more than ten million trees, is deemed to be a "material change" in whatever existing lawful purpose those trees have been intended to be used for. The meaning of the word "material" has been completely obliterated. And as a consequence of this obliteration of meaning, the most fundamental of rights, to be governed by "reasonable men and women in possession of the facts" has also been obliterated.

Defenders of this abrogation of good governance will claim that these rights are maintained by way of exemptions that enable forestry activities to be conducted in privately owned native forest subject to regulations. But the Queensland "Code for Forest Practices on Freehold Land" is not a regulation at all. It has never been subject to regulatory impact assessment. And, due to a prima facie case of professional misconduct by the Parliamentary Counsel, who is responsible for ensuring legislative and regulatory standards, this "code" is nothing more than a document that is "acceptable to the Minister".

A similar level of malgovernance applies in NSW where the "Code" was implemented without any formal consultation or input from actual forest owners and has been mostly shaped by so-called green "stakeholders". There are numerous ill-conceived prescriptions that will actually cause detriment to the fauna species they claim to be protecting. And there are other prescriptions that demand the least effective, least timely, and most costly method of delivering ecological services as the only option available. And to top it all off, the maximum possible degree of certainty allowed under the code has been reduced to only 15 years.

Yes folks, you did read that correctly. Existing forestry purposes that have traditionally involved two or three generations of one family over more than a century for each full harvest and regeneration cycle, can now look forward to no more than 15 years under each "approval". And all this has been delivered with the most nauseating pronunciamentos on the importance of "intergenerational equity" and concern for "future generations".

The malgovernance, contempt for due process and gross misconduct is of such a scale that those landowners who have restored the most native forest to cleared land in the past now have a deep sense of betrayal. Their distrust of government is so profound that they now do as much as possible to prevent any further expansion of the forests that had once been their proudest achievement. In the past when they found a seedling competing with a tussock in a paddock they usually, almost unconsciously, stooped to remove the tussock and encourage the seedling. Now they go out of their way to rip out the seedling. They understand better than most that for all the seasonal and cyclical events that can improve tree health and forest enhancement, there are just as many that can reduce tree health and exacerbate forest decline.

And this is not restricted by purely economic factors. I know of one landowner who was so outraged by the blatant demonisation of farmers in a recent Courier Mail article on land clearing that he went out and poisoned the twenty biggest trees on his place. Economics had nothing to do with it, this was pure therapy. He had no other way of venting his frustration at biased acceptance of the WWF position. To do nothing would have exposed himself to very unhealthy levels of stress. So instead of burdening the health system with a prescription for Prozac, he opted for the landowners version of the "disgruntled cooks revenge". Just as urine in the stew may not resolve the cooks issues with his employer, the dead trees made the farmer feel a whole lot better after a valuable private victory over his tormenters.

And the community, as usual, got the ecological outcome its governance and media deserves.
By Ian Mott, 12/10/08

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At May 02, 2010 11:14 am, Blogger Dixie said...

If you can Ian check out the passionate statements from the presenter of Grand Designs on ABC 2 last week. He is absolutely pro native regrowth forestry for building houses. The house they built was of English Oak, all century old methods, no nails, bolts etc.

At May 03, 2010 11:28 pm, Blogger Ian Mott said...

Thanks for the heads-up, Dixie, I only caught the end of it so will go back and check it out.


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