Douglas Community Council fury over new plans for woodland

Non-native Sitka Spruce are being planned instead of a broadleaf woodland.
Non-native Sitka Spruce are being planned instead of a broadleaf woodland.

The Gazette recently told the story of how a restoration project for the former opencast site at Mainshill had changed direction from original plans submitted to South Lanarkshire Council, according to a local resident.

We have now been contacted by a statutory consultee to the project, Douglas Community Council, which has expressed serious concerns that comments attributed to Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) in our article were “untrue, misleading and totally without foundation”.

The local community consultation body in Douglas said: “There was no prior consultation on the change of design on the plans lodged with the council from a broadleaf woodland to one of Sitka Spruce.

“We have been in constant dialogue with FLS and Scottish Forestry on this important issue, however they have continued to obfuscate, mislead and make statements that are blatantly untrue.

“Their statement that the original planting proposal was only aspirational, is nonsense, it was a detailed plan containing tree species and specifications.

“After eight months of discussion on this issue, we now hear for the first time, that FLS considered broad leaved tree planting inappropriate for the soil conditions and land form, yet records show a planning officer at the council was of the opinion that adequate quantities of soil were present and no importation of materials is necessary.

“It was agreed that existing soil conditions appear to be adequate to sustain tree growth and only the importation of composted materials, e.g. grasscuttings would be considered.”

A spokesman for the council said: “Scottish Coal, now in liquidation, had submitted the original restoration plan for a broadleaf woodland. There was no requirement for a revised woodland plan to be submitted as it is for the interested parties to sit down and agree a system of planting that all are happy with and can agree on.

“When Scottish Coal ceased to exist, the final restoration plans had not been finalised and discussions were still ongoing with the council. We are not in a position to comment on what community consultation there may have been.”

A spokesman for Douglas Community Council continued: “At a recent meeting with Forestry & Land Scotland, they claimed a recently felled conifer plantation, adjacent to Mainshill, was not being replanted with broad leaved trees. Douglas and Angus Estates who own that land have now confirmed that the FLS statement was incorrect and that they are planting a hardwood plantation.”

There has also been an allegation that the government agency misrepresented a member of RSPB Scotland. A spokesman for the bird protection body told us: “We had made it clear to F&LS both verbally and in writing that we were concerned their revised proposals for the Mainshill restoration did not deliver for wildlife and that in making such fundamental changes to the plan that had been agreed as part of the consent for the quarry, they may be in dereliction of their biodiversity duty.”

A spokesman for Forestry & Land Scotland responded: “Forest plans and woodland creation proposals, no matter how well detailed or specified, are all aspirational until such time as they are given approval by Scottish Forestry, the competent authority in forestry matters.

“We are unable to explain the views of the local authority planners but our detailed ground investigations revealed the site was not able to sustain the original design. It was therefore amended to reflect what might be possible and, in line with our obligations, we - and SMRT - consulted with the community and other parties to show and explain those changes.

“Given the constraints upon the site, planting Sitka offers significant benefits. Research indicates Sitka Spruce is estimated to store an equivalent amount of carbon to all the other tree species – conifer and broadleaves – put together and is as species-rich as native woodlands, except in the case of some groups of vascular plants and lichens.

“The UKFS and Scottish Forestry approved plans for the site make clear that it will be mixed native woodland, with common alder planted amongst the Sitka crop to improve nutrient quality as well as other native woodland around the wetland.”

A spokesman for the council said: “Scottish Coal, now in liquidation, had submitted the original restoration plan for a broadleaf woodland. There was no requirement for a revised woodland plan to be submitted as it is for the interested parties to sit down and agree a system of planting that all are happy with and can agree on. The council has no further input on this issue.

“When Scottish Coal went into liquidation and ceased to exist, the final restoration plans had not been completely finalised and discussions were still ongoing. We are not in a position to comment on what community consultation there may have been.”

A spokesman for Douglas Community Council continued: “At a recent meeting with Forestry & Land Scotland (FLS), they claimed a recently felled conifer plantation, adjacent to Mainshill, was not being replanted with broad leaved trees. Douglas and Angus Estates, the landowners, have now confirmed that the FLS statement was incorrect and they are planting a broadleaf woodland.”

The community council has alleged that a discussion between RSPB Scotland and FLS was also misrepresented. A spokesman for the bird protection body told us: “We had made it clear to SFL, both verbally and in writing that we were concerned the revised proposals did not deliver for wildlife and that in making such fundamental changes to the agreed plan which was detailed as part of the original consent for the quarry, that they may be in dereliction of their biodiversity duty.”

A spokesman for Forestry & Land Scotland responded: “All plans and woodland proposals, no matter how well detailed, are aspirational until such time as they are given approval by Scottish Forestry, the competent authority.

“We are unable to explain the views of the local authority planners on soil conditions, but our detailed investigations revealed the site was not able to sustain the original design.

“It was therefore amended to reflect what might be possible and, in line with our obligations, we consulted with the community and other parties to show and explain those changes.

“Given the constraints upon the site, planting Sitka offers significant benefits. Research indicates Sitka Spruce is estimated to store an equivalent amount of carbon to all the other tree species – conifer and broadleaves – put together and is as species-rich as native woodlands.

“The approved plans for the site make clear that it will be mixed native woodland, with common alder planted amongst the Sitka crop to improve nutrient quality as well as other native woodland around the wetland.”

The Gazette has contacted Scottish Forestry for comment on the claims made by the community council, requesting dates, locations and times of meetings which are alleged to have taken place, including any minutes that were taken at those meetings.

At the time of going to press we have received no response from Scottish Forestry.