Forestry and access

A walk in the woods is always a great experience, and there is plenty of evidence to show that woodland walking in particular reduces stress.

However, these are also working environments and it’s important that any forestry operations are carefully managed to ensure that safe public access is maintained.

Our position
Forestry is a major industry in Scotland and yet it’s not just about planting and harvesting trees.

Woodlands are very important for access and recreation and this makes a valuable contribution to the economy.

In addition, local communities make great use of nearby woods for education, cultural events and traditional foraging for seasonal foods.

Forests also play an important role in helping to combat climate change and Scotland’s native woodlands are crucial for stemming biodiversity loss.

All forestry managers need to take account of the wider public interest in planning their operations and when creating new woodlands.

The issues
Forestry and Land Scotland makes great efforts to demonstrate best practice in managing access during forestry operations in the nationally-owned forests, and also in influencing the wider forestry industry. Yet we’re aware of a range of issues across Scotland’s forests and woodlands, which negatively impact on access rights.

Under the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, walkers are advised to follow any guidance, not to climb on timber stacks and to keep a safe distance from machinery.

For land managers, access should be managed in a way which respects health and safety concerns while at the same time minimising the impact on those enjoying the forest. 

However, while national guidance on managing access is generally good, it’s not being implemented effectively and this is leading to a range of problems being reported to us, including:

  • Signage about forestry operations which are unclear or out of date.
  • Use of high stiles on well-used paths which aren’t suitable for everyone, especially those who are less able, cyclists or horse riders.
  • Locked gates across paths with no alternatives available.
  • Well used and established paths not being included in forestry plans, leading to them being ploughed up or planted over – often it’s only core paths and rights of way which are protected in the plans. New forests can cause a block on access across great swathes of land if routes aren’t planned for.
  • Long stretches of deer fencing around new woodland without sufficient crossing points.

With ambitious planting targets for Scotland to help reduce our climate emissions, it’s important that the industry recognises their obligations towards public access. The situation needs to be improved before more woodlands are planted, locking in problems for years to come.

What needs to happen
British Horse Society Scotland has produced a useful guide on providing barrier-free access aimed at forest managers, helping them to understand how to choose the right kind of gates and other infrastructure to enhance public access.

If you come across problems relating to forestry operations, please send a photo to scotland@ramblers.org.uk with information about the context so that we can take up the case with the authorities.

It’s important that these cases are addressed.

If walkers don’t have confidence in the guidance they come across, they are less likely to comply with any requests and therefore may put themselves at risk.

Background
Woodlands are wonderful places for walking at all times of the year.

In Japan, the benefits to health have long been recognised, and people are encouraged to enjoy shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, spending time around trees to reduce stress and increase wellbeing.

It is of course important to avoid trees at times of high winds.

Access rights apply to most land in Scotland including woodlands, and many land managers have developed walking and cycling trails to help you get the most out of your visit.

Woodlands and forests currently cover around 19% of Scotland.

One third of this area is part of the national forest estate while two thirds are privately owned.

The forestry industry is worth around £1 billion to the Scottish economy each year, but of that around £183 million or 18% of the total, comes from tourism and recreation, supporting around 6,300 full time equivalent related jobs.

As well as offering pleasant walks, forests are working environments and it is important that walkers respect any guidance during forestry operations, such as harvesting or haulage.

This will include taking account of signage or using alternative routes where requested.  

Further reading:

Page last updated in September 2021.