Scottish parliament commits to tree planting targets and delivering forestry strategy

10 November 2022

Confor welcomes Scottish Parliament recommitment to planting targets, and the announcement of a 10-year forestry strategy.

A motion which pledges to deliver Scotland's 10-year forestry strategy and to meet ambitious tree planting targets has been passed after a debate in the Scottish Parliament.

Confor's CEO Stuart Goodall welcomed the move, which he said confirmed Scotland's leadership in the UK forestry and wood sector.

However he urged the Scottish Government to focus on tree planting targets after a slight dip saw the 2021/22 target of 12,000 hectares missed - and said the gap between ambition and delivery must not be allowed to widen.

The parliamentary motion, timed to coincide with COP27 in Egypt, also acknowledged "the essential contribution to net zero that trees, woods and forests make, tackling the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss".

It noted “the importance of growing and maintaining a resilient forest resource to sustain its economic, social and environmental contribution” and welcomed the achievements made in implementing Scotland’s Forestry Strategy 2019-2029.

The Strategy was originally passed with cross-party support and Mr Goodall said this was crucial to maintaining Scotland's pre-eminence in UK forestry.

He added: "The motion commits to meeting the tree planting target of 18,000 hectares of new woodland creation every year by 2025, which is very welcome news. We saw a slight dip in planting last year and the target of 13,500 hectares was missed, with just under 10,500 actually planted.

"At the moment, ambition is running ahead of delivery and we need to make sure that we marry them up over the next three years - and not let the gap widen. The key to achieving this is accelerating approvals of planting applications and ensuring that we are planting a majority of wood-producing forests, to grow timber for house-building, pallets to move essential goods and fencing and to support the rural economy.

"Forestry and wood already adds around £1 billion in annual economic value and supports more than 25,000 jobs with the potential to unlock tens of millions of pounds of further investment.

"Against the backdrop of COP27, the Parliament debated net zero. Scotland needs tree planting and increased use of wood to hit its world-leading 2045 target.

"With modern standards for forest management, all woodland can deliver for biodiversity, but it is our wood-producing forests that will make the biggest contribution to achieving that 2045 goal. They will also enable Scotland to build the high-quality homes of the future."

Opening the debate, Scotland’s Environment Minister Màiri McAllan MSP described forestry as “a real and growing success story”, highlighting that Scotland had been responsible for 80% of all new UK planting over the last four years.

She said forests were Scotland’s biggest carbon sink, and absorbed 14% of its greenhouse gas emissions. And it was established conifer forests, with a majority of spruce trees, that absorbed most carbon, she said - and that the carbon benefits were even greater when conifers were harvested and used in construction.

In a briefing sent to politicians ahead of the debate, Confor had stressed that productive tree species like fir, spruce and pine are better for carbon sequestration. Research shows they sequester (soak up) around 3.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide CO2 per hectare per year up to 2050 - against 1.9 tonnes per hectare per year for slower-growing broadleaf trees.

The carbon soaked up can then be locked into long-life products and can replace concrete, steel and plastics.

Ms McAllan went on to highlight Scotland’s “technologically advanced sawmills and wood panel manufacturers” as a crucial part of the rural economy.

Watch the full debate on Scottish Parliament TV.