Ettrick Valley forestry rethink plea to SBC

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COUNCILLORS will be asked today to re-consider a controversial report on commercial forestry in the Ettrick Valley.

Earlier this month, Scottish Borders Council’s environment and infrastructure committee approved proposals to remove Ettrick and Kirkhope parishes’ sensitive status in its new five-year woodland strategy.

The decision angered Selkirkshire member and Ettrick Valley resident Vicky Davidson, who argued it would reduce the protection of the valley from further large-scale planting applications.

Valley residents raised concerns as almost 1,200 hectares of new trees were planted in the area in the last two years, leading to SBC successfully applying for the temporary status in February 2012.

In her motion to the council, Councillor Davidson writes: “The reason for referring it to full council is that the advice note does not contain adequate safeguards to prevent and control the impacts of large-scale conifer planting on targeted communities and does not take adequate account of changing policy on better integrated land use. 

“A stronger advice note could give protection to a number of pressurised communities in the Scottish Borders.  

“The ‘sensitive’ designation of Ettrick and Kirkhope should remain in place until such effective and specific safeguards are agreed.”

However, SBC landscape officer Jim Knight rejects Councillor Davidson’s suggestion.

He writes: “It is submitted that the advice note (2012) does in fact provide a very robust and clearly defined set of criteria against which the potential adverse effects of large-scale conifer planting can be judged.

“It provides a reasoned basis upon which the Forestry Commission Scotland, as regulator, can judge and, if necessary, refuse new planting applications.

“It also provides a basis for the council, as statutory consultee, to object to an application that does not satisfy the criteria.”

Mr Knight added that if the council were to retain the Ettrick Valley’s sensitive status instead of replacing it with preferred and potential, as proposed, any objections to future applications would likely be rejected by the FCS.

Mr Knight also wrote: “Importantly the new advice note permits the council to take into consideration the economic and social implications of permitting new planting where it was previously restricted to considering only the environmental impacts when considering planting schemes.

“This allows significantly more weight to be given to the views and needs of local communities.”

However, Ettrick and Yarrow Community Council have backed Ms Davidson’s opposition to the removal of sensitive status, claiming the advice note is biased, adding that large scale commercial planting on farm land and open spaces “destroys communities”.

Yet, the Selkirk Branch of the National Farmers Union backed the introduction of planting schemes alongside farming to boost the local economy.

A spokesman wrote: “We have always believed there should be a fair and balanced approach to forestry in the Southern Uplands.

“It has come to our attention that some community councils (particularly Ettrick and Yarrow) want a complete halt to any more forestry.

“This is not the view of many local landlords who believe that forestry can play its part in any future changes to a sheep farming enterprise.

“A few examples of this working very well are at the top of the Ettrick Valley, where employment has been generated with shepherding and forestry maintenance.”