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We try hard to manage Scotland’s forests and land responsibly. We aim to meet the goals of the Scottish Government in terms of both environmental and economic targets. This is apparent in the largest part of our operation: growing, tending and harvesting trees.  

When carried out as part of an approved plan, the cycle of planting and felling go a long way to meeting these goals. However, we must be aware of the biodiversity of an area, and how our work can affect it. This is especially true when working in areas that are home to protected species. 

Sometimes forest work, such as felling or road building, need to take place in areas that are home to protected species. In these cases, permission is sought in the form of a licence from NatureScot. As the guardians of Scotland’s wildlife, it is their job to put the needs of wildlife first. This ensures any work we do has minimal impact to the species in question. 

Licences are only issued when fully justified and where work will meet the three licensing tests:   

  • There must be a valid purpose
  • There is no valid alternative
  • Measures must be taken to keep the species at ‘favourable conservation status’

Red squirrel clinging to tree

This system works well, but is put under strain by the sheer size of public land we manage. We manage over 300 forests across Scotland, many with protected species like red squirrels. In the course of normal work we must apply for a large number of licences to continue operating. This takes time and effort across both organisations, and can incur extra costs. It can also create delays that affect public safety and tree health. 

To avoid this and help us balance our forest work with the protection of wildlife, we have agreed a species specific license for red squirrels with NatureScot. This means that our own Environment staff can decide on what work is and is not allowed in red squirrel areas. As experts in their field, our staff are often best placed to judge the merits of proposed work. 

This process has worked well for everyone. We are now looking at using similar licences for a range of other species. While we still consult with NatureScot, the species specific licence allows us to balance the needs of forestry and wildlife while increasing efficiency.