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ForestHarvest: non-timber forest products in Scotland



High street shoppers

Certification and labelling

Guarantees in the marketplace

What is certification?

Certification is a means of guaranteeing that a product has been produced in a certain way, or possesses certain characteristics. The standards are defined by the certifying organisation, and periodic inspections are made to ensure that the producer continues to meet those standards. The fact that the product has been certified is then flagged up in the marketplace by labelling schemes, giving a recognisable 'stamp of approval'.

In the context of wild harvests in the UK, key issues in certification are sustainability and provenance. Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) forest certification has set a precedent, guaranteeing sustainable harvesting levels and appropriate management practices. However, the nature of wild harvested products requires a different set of criteria from those developed for timber production.

What are the difficulties?

Certification involves a degree of expense for landowners or harvester/ producers. This will only be seen as worthwhile if there is public awareness of the issues and demand for sustainably produced or locally sourced products, and possibly a willingness to pay slightly over the odds for such items.

Certification is only of value if the origins of the products - their provenance - is well known, i.e. the chain of custody from forest to marketplace is adequately traceable. This is potentially problematic for wild harvests. Many of the wild mushrooms sold in Scotland, for example, are gathered informally by self-employed collectors. It would be very difficult to guarantee the sustainability of such products without better knowledge of where and how they were gathered.

Certification schemes in Scotland

Current certification schemes in the natural products sector include organic and fair trade. In the UK the main organic certifier is the Soil Association, whilst fair trading standards are certified by the Fairtrade Foundation.

FSC-branded Scottish venison: Sustainability of timber production is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The FSC has also approved certification of a handful of non-timber forest products worldwide. The first to be approved in the UK is venison. Forest Enterprise, which manages forests for the UK Forestry Commission, sells venison under this label. This indicates that the deer were culled in certified 'sustainable' forests. It does not, however, specifically guarantee that the deer management in these forests is sustainable - and any retailer who wishes to use the label has to apply and pay for their own licence from the FSC.

There is potential for other forest products to be included under two grassroots schemes which are specific to Scotland:

The Scottish Working Woods label, launched at the Touchwood festival in Dingwall, 1-2 June 2007, is designed to be used on the whole range of products which can be derived from Scottish woodlands. To keep down the costs mentioned above, it is administered through existing trade associations. See the next page of this section for more information on how wild harvests businesses could access the Scottish Working Woods label.

The Albanach brand was launched in 2003. Albanach embraces best practice in the growing, processing, designing, making and retailing of home-grown timber products - and also wants to hear from suppliers of non-timber forest products.

International NTFP certification

Several international organisations are also working towards the development of certification schemes for non-timber forest products (NTFPs), and some trial programmes are already up and running.

The Rainforest Alliance's NTFP Marketing and Management Project, for example, has developed standards for NTFP certification that are now being adopted by the Forest Stewardship Council.

Key references:

Tapping the Green Market

SmartWood NTFP Certification Standards Addendum


Falls Brook Centre: Certification of NTFPs - an emerging field

NTFP certification - challenges and opportunities

Rainforest Alliance: Guidelines, standards and regulations for trade in NTFPs and botanicals (PDF)

Next in this section: the Scottish Working Woods label