Picture Essay by Ted Leeming 

As part of a local “Forest Festival” in February, artists Leeming & Paterson asked the community “What 3 words describe forestry in Galloway today?”  From over 70 anonymous responses they produced a word cloud, which in turn informed one of Ted Leeming’s residency outcomes, in the form of a picture essay.“The community, including myself, had been involved in an ongoing series of rather dry and unimaginative Government consultations with respect to land use policy. You know, the one’s that always seemed to attract the same people into the village hall on a Thursday evening at tea time but fail to reach the vast majority of the local population. Our idea was to explore alternative approaches to engaging (and consulting) with the community, which first meant acknowledging that our community consists of many different ‘interest groups’ of different ages, backgrounds & passions.  To engage with as many different groups as possible we organised a 15 event ‘festival‘ including walks and talks, seminars, workshops, activisms, a competition and an exhibition, each approaching a different aspect relating to woodlands, forests and treescapes in a range of different environments. For a further engagement we placed postcards in local shops and community centres up and down the glen, as well as handing them out at a couple of the events themselves. The postcard asked the question “What 3 words describe forestry in Galloway today?”  Answers were anonymous, with postboxes located around the glen in which responses could be placed. “Sometimes simple, emotive responses can far more powerfully express opinion than those gathered by other means, and we were surprised at the passion and clarity in the responses we received.We already had an interest in the subject but the local sentiments were unequivocal, which spurred me to look into the concerns being raised more closely, including freedom of information requests and more detailed research.  I was astonished at some of the discoveries I made, which together informed the picture essay I subsequently produced.The essay seeks to raise awareness and pose questions for wider consideration, including those who have the power to effect change. I do not profess to being any kind of expert, but it does seem that as planting targets are chased, serious questions are being ignored and opportunities missed, resulting in increasing impacts from developments on rural communities and even risking biodiversity commitments and the long term delivery of climate sequestration targets. 

Having played a small role in the development of renewables for three decades I am acutely aware that nothing comes for free and there is always a cost to be paid. Balance is not easy to achieve. But with negligible impact to an accountants spreadsheet or investor returns, it does seem that we could learn from many exemplar forestry, renewables & other sector schemes, both small and landscape scale, that offer alternative approaches and which appear to better harmonise commercial interests with biodiversity, climate, community and societal needs towards a truly resilient future.  From what I have witnessed the commercial forestry industry does seem to be defensively ‘tweaking the status quo’ and lagging behind other sectors in this regard, when new imaginative thinking and ideas clearly exist. 

As with any solutions based thinking, proactively working together in partnerships of trust, compromise and commitment from the outset, with community and nature equal participants and stimulated by robust and enforced enabling policy, seems to be the best, if only, way that this will be achieved."

The images presented here have been adapted from a longer picture essay by Ted Leeming exploring current forestry policy, practices and management in the UK & Scotland in 2023.

Word Cloud representing the 70+ anonymous responses received to the question ‘What 3 Words Describe Forestry in Galloway Today?’


At 13%, the UK has one of the lowest levels of tree cover in Europe, of which ancient temperate ‘rainforests’ are one of the most rare and valuable habitats we have.  Comprising less than 1% of total woodland cover, very few are designated.  A YouGov poll found that 93% of the British public support their increased protection.

Many of our existing woodlands are under threat from multiple sources, including overgrazing, agricultural practices, invasive species, development, storms, drought, pollution, pests & diseases.  As a result, many of our treescapes are slowly dying or disappearing.

Current UK forestry policies are focussed towards new planting schemes, of which 75% are being delivered in Scotland.  Half of these are concentrated in southern Scotland where some 85% of applications are for commercial conifer plantations based on the clearfell system.  This concentration and the method of planting is causing increased conflict between developers and local interest groups.  The industry says it is being judged on schemes planted in the 1980’s and things are very different now, though many locals say the changes are cursory.


729 commercial conifer applications have been approved across Scotland since 2015.  None have been refused consent in that time and only 4 have been required to conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment [source: Scottish Forestry].  Proposals have focussed largely on upland pastures and hillsides, displacing traditional farming activities & moorland species. With almost no apparent assessment for cumulative or threshold impacts, the sheer number of projects is fragmenting landscapes in what some are describing as a “second clearances”.


Forests store carbon, both in the tree itself and in the soil.  Forest Research (the Government’s own scientists) conclude however, that clearfell plantations are unlikely to absorb the amount of carbon released from the soil over a 30 year rotation period if planted on peaty soils 30cm deep.  Minutes from a 2022 Scottish Forestry Advisory Group meeting go further, estimating sequestration levels to be “…a third less than previously anticipated”.  Despite this, Scottish Government policy continues to allow new planting on peaty soils up to 50cm and replanting on peat over 50cm.


Most forestry products (e.g. paper, cardboard, wood based panels) sequester carbon.  Industry figures state that over 40% of clearfell forestry products sequester carbon for 5 years or less & just 27.3% sequester for longer than a single plantation rotation [source: CONFOR].


The threat from unprecedented storms can have an immediate catastrophic effect on plantations.  In 2021, Storm Arwen flattened some 16 million trees of largely plantation forestry in a single night [source: BBC].  With climate change, such storms are predicted to become increasingly frequent & severe.


Pests & diseases are major threats to sequestration targets & storm & drought events can trigger outbreaks [source: Økland & Bjørnstad].  A bark beetle that attacks Sitka spruce is currently causing significant damage to forests in Europe & southern England.  In October 2023 the same beetle was discovered in Scotland.  If it becomes endemic it could wipe out up to 1 million hectares of conifers.  When asked about the risk from single or multiple pest & disease attacks to meeting policy targets, the Government stated that it does not have any information on this subject [source: Scottish Government]


Tree planting is subsidised by the tax payer whilst commercial forestry incurs no income tax, capital gain or corporation tax.  Annualised investment returns over the last 15 years have averaged 18.9% at one investment house [source: Gresham House].


Most people recognised and supported the need for more trees.  Concern centred around threats to existing woodlands and commercial conifer planting methods.  Many exemplar projects were identified across Scotland, both large & small, that showcase alternative approaches to new forestry projects.  All include some form of compromise, but many appear to offer a greater balance between biodiversity, climate, community, society & commercial needs than most of the current clearfell conifer schemes.


Ted Leeming explores human relationships with the landscape and the twin biodiversity & climate emergencies.  Based in Galloway, his research on forestry and other forms of land use continues.  He can be contacted at 

m +44 (0) 7887 736 887 (please leave a message)

e [email protected]


All images copyright tedleeming