University unveils how forestry offsetting can unlock financial benefit for communities

A symposium hosted by Edinburgh Napier Business School has submitted proposals to the Scottish Government on how small parcels of land in Scotland can become a key revenue source - while enabling Scotland to meet its ambitious carbon reduction targets.

University unveils how forestry offsetting can unlock financial benefit for communities

Gail Boag

The five-point action plan is based on the current low number of applications for grants for ‘aggregated’ small plots of land – even though this is permitted by registration body Woodland Carbon Code.

Not-for-profit organisations which own modest pieces of land - as small one tenth of an acre - can join forces to apply for grants to plant trees, and generate an income stream via carbon sequestration opportunities. However, this is not happening right now because smaller landowners have been reluctant to share liability.

Gail Boag, dean of the Edinburgh Napier Business School, said: “The result is a mismatch between the land currently available for tree planting and the targeted land needed to meet Government targets. To maximise the potential for planting, particularly in urban areas, the landowners of smaller plots must be motivated to act.

“We believe that our Impact Investment Symposium’s action plan offers a ‘plug and play’ solution that will accelerate progress towards the Scottish Government laudable targets around carbon reduction and biodiversity, and foster a great sense of wellbeing and community spirit too.

“Following COP26, there is clear impetus across industry sectors to work together, partnering with applied universities to help achieve net-zero through reducing source emissions and by offsetting through sequestration. I believe the Symposium’s work to be crucial to this effort and look forward to discussing the way forward with the Scottish Government to deliver a better, fairer Scotland for our students and communities.”

The five actions are:

  1. Support the funding of a new advisory post through the Forest Development Programme to support landowners with the grant application process.
  2. Explore the potential of an ‘Allowable Offset’ scheme, where developers of new build projects in Scotland can generate funds to support new woodlands planted by social enterprises and not-for-profit organisations.
  3. Establish an industry working group to explore the feasibility of tracking and certifying the end-to-end offset cycle, from planting to product.
  4. Work with partners to identify ways to safely reduce existing thresholds for public funding, so that small sites can be aggregated without the incumbent administrative burden and still provide a financial reward.
  5. Ensure future funding and policy encourages more new native woodland planting, to support local biodiversity and develop local nature networks.

The symposium’s ideas chime with latest government strategies. The First Minister’s Environmental Council has this month reiterated the importance of forest planting to mitigate impacts of climate change through sequestration, enhancing biodiversity and providing space for recreation.

Under current plans, woodland creation will increase to 18,000 hectares a year by 2025, up from 10,660 hectares in 2020. The most recent Scottish Government Programme for Government also commits to increase annual expansion of native woodlands which can bring particular biodiversity benefits in addition to sequestering carbon.

The symposium’s working group worked closely with Social Enterprise Scotland and the Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions in preparing its recommendations, which are supported by a number of other organisations.

Chris Martin, CEO of Social Enterprise Scotland, said: “Communities across Scotland want to improve local biodiversity and new woodlands provide multiple benefits for the environment and our individual wellbeing. The 6,025 social enterprises in Scotland are at the heart of their communities and this initiative can help unlock the potential of small parcels of land up and down Scotland and provide diversified income streams for the enterprise, creating more sustainable organisations.”

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