New Year Honour for James Hepburne Scott

Posted on Monday, March, 6th, 2023

We are hugely proud of Forest Carbon’s co-founder James Hepburne Scott who received the honour of an OBE in the King’s New Year honours list.

The OBE was awarded for “For Services to Forestry and the Environment in Scotland”. James said “The award came as a huge surprise and of course I am thrilled but I can think of a good few people in this sector who are equally or more deserving.”

Recipients do not hear any detail about what was actually submitted but James said “That may have covered a multitude of sins” so we have gathered together a brief history of his work.

James Hepburne Scott entered the forestry sector as a director of Alba Trees nursery in 1992. His sector representative role began as South Scotland chairman of the Timber Growers Association which merged to become the Forestry and Timber Association (FTA). He was Scotland chair of FTA until 2004 when it in turn merged into the new Confederation of Forest Industries (Confor) which he helped to establish as the voice of the forestry and wood processing industry. During this period he enjoyed meeting and briefing a succession of new forestry ministers. The need for improved support for new planting of native and commercial woods and the infant wood-fuel sector was always on the agenda.

In 2009 he persuaded the Forestry Commission, as it then existed, of the need for a standard for the newly emerging woodland carbon market. This was to ensure best practice, additionality and sound, conservative consistent carbon estimates, thus giving confidence to buyers and sellers alike.  In 2011 the Woodland Carbon Code was launched.

By 2013 Forest Carbon was pioneering private sector investment in peatland restoration and James was an early influence in the development of the Peatland Code.

The purpose of the new codes was, and is, to enable more new woodland creation and peatland restoration by generating private sector finance to supplement existing grants where these were insufficient to unlock projects. In addition to capturing or preventing the loss of carbon these projects will, in time, deliver a range of other benefits including enhancement of biodiversity and water quality, natural flood management and recreation.

James was President of the Royal Scottish Forestry Society from 2016 to 2019. It fell to him in 2018 to form and  lead a pressure group of rural representative bodies which succeeded in persuading MSPs to keep the Forestry Commission in Scotland as an agency rather than a division within the Scottish Government. The necessary amendment to the bill was passed by one vote.

He has been director of the River Tweed Forum from since 2010 and was chairman from 2015 to 2020. Tweed Forum delivers a wide range of projects from small-scale local tree planting schemes to ambitious whole catchment restoration initiatives including peat restoration. His knowledge and love of the Tweed dates from his formative years on a hill farm in the upper catchment.

In 2016 he was made an Honorary Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Foresters.

We asked James what achievement he was most proud of?

“I must admit to being very proud that, thanks to my serendipitous meeting with Steve Prior, I was able to realise my vision which became Forest Carbon. The team which now numbers seven is ably led by my son George Hepburne Scott. Forest Carbon has enabled the planting of over 13 million trees on over 8 thousand hectares in the UK and Ireland. For peatlands, Forest Carbon is working on a project pipeline which covers 1900 ha.

The respective Codes have enabled the growth of a thriving UK market in voluntary carbon reduction with many participants.  Together, these codes are a platform on which further markets are beginning to develop;  biodiversity, farm soils, hedgerows. Supplementary finance from enlightened businesses can now enable limited taxpayer funding to achieve so much more.

Leaning on your experience and knowledge of the sector, what critical action is still required? 

I have long advocated the development of a land-use strategy to enable optimum decisions about land-use change, reconciling the many competing interests. Tweed Forum has been a major contributor to the development of Scotland’s strategy. Farmers need clear guidance about the part they must play in achieving “Net Zero Britain”. Ideally these initiatives would be UK-wide.  Devolution can get in the way”.

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