GUEST BLOG: The Hidden Value of Trees - Assessing the non-market benefits

21st March 2014 By Shireen Chambers

Perthshire Woodlands Copyright Forestry Commission

There is increasing evidence that the non-market values of ecosystem services from woodlands significantly exceed market values but go largely unrewarded at present. This needs to change if we want growth in Scotland’s economy to be truly green. At present the market values for forestry are pretty healthy with forestry supporting 19,000 jobs directly and a further 19,500 indirectly; GVA is currently at £1bn with annual business investment at £50m. And it’s the only sector in Scotland with a net positive carbon impact.

In the context of rising energy prices and growing global demand for resources, Scotland’s forests are a significantly under-exploited resource. Wood from Scotland’s forests has the potential to provide more low carbon material for construction and other goods, to be an alternative to fossil fuels, and to reduce our current dependency on imports. We need a renewed understanding of the potential for wood as a contemporary product, for which there is increasing demand and market opportunities, and as a material of choice for high-value and long-lasting products.

But our woodlands are also an essential part of our natural capital: a unique natural asset that delivers many public benefits. Like any asset, woodlands need investment to sustain these benefits in the long term. But much of their value, to society and nature in particular, does not lend itself to measurement. And what is not measured is generally not valued. We can see the effects of this in Scotland’s woodlands today. Much of our woodland is not managed resulting in some of our most valuable wildlife declining. Less woodland is being created and the threats from climate change, pests and diseases are increasing. We need to respond to this with urgency.

The Scottish Forum on Natural Capital reinforces the message that we need to account for all benefits of our woodlands, including timber income. Woodlands provide space and corridors for wildlife and help keep our air and water clean. They provide shade, stabilise our soils and can slow and prevent floods. They lock up carbon and can help us adapt to living in a changing climate. They support thousands of businesses, jobs and livelihoods. And spending time in them helps keep us physically and mentally healthy. We urgently need a valuation of our woodlands that takes full account of all these benefits. Then the case for developing markets for these wider services, will be clear and compelling.

I believe economic growth and protecting the natural environment can be mutually compatible goals. Strong evidence is emerging that shows a healthy environment is essential for economic growth, and the economic benefits of investing in biodiversity and ecosystems significantly outweigh the costs.


Shireen Chambers FICFor is Executive Director of the Institute of Chartered Foresters (ICF). ICF are a member of the Scottish Forum, you can see the full list of members here.