Letter to/from Forest Research

Response from Forest Research

Your open letter (below) in the RSFS Scottish Forestry Journal has queried the support for public funding of forestry in Scotland, based on the results from the Public Opinion of Forestry 2023: Scotland report, issued in July 2023 by Forest Research.

 The methodology for the survey changed from face-to-face to telephone interviews in 2021. It changed again for the 2023 survey, switching to an online format. This is referred to in the report (p45) which states: ‘The changes in survey design will have led to some inconsistencies with previous surveys, but it is not possible to quantify how [many] of the changes observed in 2023 are a result of adopting a different survey design and how much are a result of genuine change. Care should therefore be taken when comparing the results from the 2023 survey with those for previous years.’

Although there appears to be a large drop in public support for government funding of forestry between 2021 and 2023, it should be noted that 2021 figures were particularly high. Statistically, it is too early to conclude whether the higher 2021 figures and the lower 2023 figures are part of a longer-term trend or a product of change of sampling methodology. This will become clearer with the results from future surveys.

Respondents’ opinions will always be influenced by a range of factors. Views on specific issues may change over time as priorities change. For example, it is possible increasing retail prices and the resulting impact on cost of living may have had an effect of responses in 2023. It is also worth noting that, in March 2021, when interviewing took place for the 2021 survey, COVID restrictions were still in place, which may have influenced responses from the public.

Sheila Ward,
Head of Forest Information and Statistics at Forest Research

Open letter to  Forest Research

Reports in RSFS’ eNews of 21 July and 4 August highlighting the apparent collapse in support for public spending on forestry in Scotland as shown in Forest Research’s “Public Opinion of Forestry 2023: Scotland” are extremely concerning. Given the constant media focus over recent years on the climate crisis, consistent messaging from many sources about the important role which forests provide in mitigating climate change, well publicised governmental support for increasing tree planting and the sterling efforts made by organisations such as Confor (and the RSFS!) to increase public awareness of the many benefits of forestry, the results are also perhaps surprising.

The survey methodology, as reported in the August 4 eNews, has changed although according to Forest Research “it is not possible to quantify how much of the changes observed in 2023 are a result of adopting a different survey design and how much are a result of genuine change”.  In a political climate where policies often appear to be dictated by public opinion, I suggest it may be important to ascertain whether or not the 2023 results are in fact a genuine reflection of public opinion or an aberration created by the online data collection process – previous surveys were carried out face to face, then by telephone in 2021.  We may still be comparing apples with apples, but are those apples presented in neat rows in the grocer’s window, or are they hidden in crates at the wholesaler’s warehouse?

Quoted comment from a Forest Research assistant statistician that any anomaly may be in the 2021 results rather than 2023 could also be usefully drilled into and explained in greater detail. The following graph showing the averaged proportions of respondents who identified reasons to support forestry with public money over the survey years, suggests to this non-statistician at least, a trend of steadily growing support up to 2021 then a spectacular collapse in 2023.

My, admittedly biased, gut feeling is that something just doesn’t look right about the latest results.  Further comment from Forest Research would be appreciated.

Raymond Henderson

Scottish Forestry’s best articles of 2022

Winning authors who penned Scottish Forestry’s best articles of 2022 – decided by an independent panel of judges – have been presented with their trophies by RSFS President Wilma Harper.

Ben and Katie Harrower (above left, with Wilma Harper) attended the RSFS Annual Dinner presentation, from which they took home the trophy for the Neil Findlay Memorial Prize for their article, ‘Hot on the trail: How advances in thermal imaging are transforming deer management’ in the Autumn/Winter 2022 edition. It was a well-written account of a ‘breakthrough’ in deer management, the judges said. The category rewards work that ‘portrays wider perspectives of people’s involvement with trees, woodland and the environment'.


The Sir George Campbell Memorial Trophy for professional articles was given to ‘The role of nursing mixtures in forestry in upland Britain’ by Bill Mason, Victoria Stokes (both pictured below) and Andy Taylor, published in Spring 2022. One judge wrote: ‘The paper contributes greatly to our knowledge of upland forestry; it is one that will surely be referred to frequently by foresters, scientists and policy advisers.’

Andrew Cameron was a runner-up in the category, for his piece, ‘Positive environmental impact of productive forest expansion on mitigating climate change and reducing natural and semi-natural forest loss’ in Autumn/Winter 2022.


Kate Holl, ineligible for one of the two prizes as a non-member, received a special mention from the judges for her work, ‘Missing understorey? The biodiversity and carbon cost of high deer numbers’, published in Summer 2022.


The society wishes to thank the panel of judges – Pat Hunter Blair, David Henderson-Howat and Carol Crawford for their hard work, expertise and generosity.

RSFS Strategy - give your views

The draft RSFS Strategy for 2023-2028 can be found here. We are keen to hear the views of our members and others with an interest in the future of the Society. Please read the Strategy before responding to the questions in the member survey. The survey will be open until 7th October 2023.

ABM 2023

The 170th Annual Business Meeting of the society was held at the Creebrige Hotel, Newton Stewart on 9th May 2023.  Members of the Society can find papers here after they have logged in.

Brass disc with award inscription
Award inscription

RSFS & Cashel honoured by SFT award at Confor dinner

As part of the celebrations of the 40th Anniversary of the Scottish Forestry Trust, the body created a special award for ‘Education and Outreach’ based on the projects they had supported over the four decades. The prize – a beautiful wooden trophy made from elm by woodturner Angus Clyne – was awarded to RSFS for its work carried out at Cashel Forest. SFT Chair Paul Atkinson said: ‘The centre serves as a demonstration of sound forestry practice for the benefit of the public.’

RSFS President Wilma Harper (pictured second from right), who accepted the award on behalf of the Society at the Confor annual dinner, said: 'I was delighted to attend the Confor Awards dinner as a guest of the Scottish Forestry Trust and receive this special award for education and outreach. It is a tremendous accolade for the Society and for Cashel and a tribute to all those who have worked so hard over many years to make Cashel what it is.'

Winners of Confor awards included BH Wildlife Consultancy, whose Ben Harrower is an RSFS member, and Forestry and Land Scotland, jointly taking the Innovation and Research prize for their aerial drone surveys for deer management, featured in the last edition of our journal Scottish Forestry. The Future Leader winner was Neil White, who oversees RSFS corporate member Scottish Woodlands' graduate programme.

A full report of the event and the award winners can be found here.