Better together?

Scottish Woodlands Ltd (FSC-C020901/FSC-C102311) was the first commercial forest management company in the UK to offer an FSC certified group scheme back in 1999. Since then, the scheme has grown to cover over 100,000 hectares.


(© Scottish Woodlands Ltd)© Scottish Woodlands Ltd
Scottish Woodlands Ltd has more than 140 staff, with around half of them being shareholders. The company is headquartered in Edinburgh, and has offices across Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

This year, the company has marked its 50th birthday as an incorporated entity by publishing a commemorative book, planting a celebration woodland and increasing its profits by 20%. The book, The Wood and the Trees: A History of Scottish Woodlands Ltd and its People, tells the story of the company, which is unique in the sector as it is 80% owned by its employees. The celebration woodland was planted on ground at Crieff Hydro in Perthshire, celebrating a longstanding collaboration between woodland owner (client) and forest manager.

Ralland Browne, Managing Director of Scottish Woodlands Ltd noted in the book that “there have been ups and downs over the last 50 years, but the company and the wider forestry and wood-processing industry are both in good health in 2017. We are optimistic for the future, with a strong focus on driving up tree planting rates.” Increasing tree planting rates will help the UK to use more of its homegrown product in years to come.

The importance of FSC certification

FSC certification is important to Scottish Woodlands for a variety of reasons. Economically, certification is driven by customer demand and out of the one million tonnes of timber harvested annually by the company, 77% is FSC certified and the remainder can be assessed as FSC controlled wood under the UK’s low risk designation. The company would not be able to sell that quantity of timber without FSC forest management and chain of custody certification.

In environmental terms, forest certification underpins timber as the ultimate low-carbon renewable resource. On a fragile planet with a growing population, where all people deserve a good quality of life, we need stable productive ecosystems. FSC certification helps Scottish Woodlands’ forest managers to manage woodlands and plantations in a responsible way. When trees are harvested, the carbon in the timber is locked up as a harvested wood product, e.g. construction materials or furniture. The next crop (rotation) of trees is planted in accordance with FSC standards, and, besides a timber crop, creates other public benefits such as increased biodiversity, enhanced landscapes and recreational activities.

Socially, FSC certification has helped to initiate improved health and safety standards across the industry. Scottish Woodlands was a founding signatory of the Forest Industry Safety Accord in 2012 which, along with stakeholders across the sector, aims to reduce the number of serious and fatal accidents in the industry. Scottish Woodlands is actively involved in the Accord, with representation on the Steering Group as well as some of the working groups.


(© Scottish Woodlands Ltd)© Scottish Woodlands Ltd
Group certification

The ISO 9001 / 14001 certification achieved by Scottish Woodlands in the 1990s enabled the company to create some of the systems necessary to support forest certification, while UK forestry already had many of the controls in place required to meet the certification standard. These two factors helped Scottish Woodlands to become the first forest management company in the UK to offer FSC Group Certification to woodland owners. However, at the time, the FSC Group Certification scheme was a bit of a leap of faith as many in the industry did not see the need for forest certification in the UK.

Since the original certificate was awarded in 1999, the company’s Group Certification scheme has continued to evolve along with the subsequent revisions of the UK Woodland Assurance Standard (UKWAS). The UK will soon be onto the fourth iteration of UKWAS, the national certification standard used by FSC.

The main challenges in relation to FSC requirements and running a Group Scheme revolve around a dilemma between credibility and accessibility. The company is the gate keeper to the credibility of the FSC label yet the company wants to make forest certification accessible to as diverse a range of woodland owners as possible. It seems that the more forests the company brings into its Group Scheme, the more audit trails are opened up and the harder it is to maintain the company’s certification. Every additional Group Scheme Member is a potential new risk and this makes it difficult to provide certification to owners if they do not also take the full range of management services which are offered by Scottish Woodlands. For owners of smaller woodlands in particular, the benefits of certification become marginal, as the costs required to support them are not always recovered by additional timber revenues they receive from certified wood. An auditing approach focusing on how the group scheme is managed rather than on individual non-conformances would help improve this.

Advice to any forest owners / managers who are interested in, or seeking, FSC certification would be to employ a reputable forest management company and to join that company’s Group Scheme. The owner will benefit from guidance and management of their woodlands by professional forest managers who should be aware of the current Standard and best practice.


© Forest Stewardship Council® · FSC® F000231