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ForestHarvest: non-timber forest products in Scotland

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NTFPs from the owner's perspective

Adding value to our woods and plantations

Non-timber forest products (NTFPs) can offer opportunities for landowners, increasing the potential revenue from their forests. A small patch of woodland, for example, can yield thousands of pounds' worth of mushrooms, bulbs or moss every few years.

Opportunities and benefits
  • Modification of planting, management and harvesting regimes to increase productivity of specific NTFPs such as moss and mushrooms. Moss production, for example, might be increased by canopy thinning, allowing more light to penetrate to the forest floor.
  • Increasing the amenity value of woodlands by promoting visitor understanding and enjoyment of sustainable NTFP gathering for domestic use. This is sometimes used to enhance B&B and other tourism businesses.

Managed properly, NTFPs could provide a steady flow of income throughout the life of the tree crop, increasing the viability of new plantings. But how realistic is this?

The challenges

Access control is one of the thorniest issues relating to NTFPs. Unlike in farmers' fields, where crops are technically sacrosanct, people are at liberty to wander freely in the woods and pick whatever they fancy (within the limits of the Wildlife and Countryside Act). And although, according to the somewhat ambiguous terms of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, visitors are not permitted to take anything away for commercial gain, this is very difficult to regulate in practice.

This lack of control, whether legal or practical, provides a considerable obstacle to the profitable establishment of management regimes for NTFPs. What landowner will go to the effort of raising the production of their woodlands in the knowledge that the produce will all be carried off by freelance gatherers?

Meeting the challenges

If NTFP species are planted in a woodland, or the environment is deliberately managed to promote them, then technically these are a crop. Legally, therefore, they should not be gathered by visitors, and it may be argued that access to such woodlands could be justifiably restricted.

Licensing arrangements can theoretically be put in place to regulate the collection of NTFPs. In Epping Forest, in southern England, wild mushroom gathering for domestic use is now regulated by such a system.

Management of currently unregulated and informal NTFP collection requires the development of positive working relationships between gatherers, traders and forest owners, providing mutual benefits. This requires a better understanding of who is gathering what and where, and of the economics of the businesses.

Signpost
R&D initiatives
  • The Sustainable Forest Harvest project developed guidelines for sustainable harvesting levels and practises. A participatory approach was used, thus building and strengthening relationships between stakeholders.
  • The Wild Harvests Sector Support project worked to increase communication between all those with a business interest in NTFPs and other wild products, bringing together the whole range from casual harvesters to landowners to value-adding businesses and service providers. It culminated in the launch of the Scottish Wild Harvests Association in July 2009.