Woodland expansion in Scotland between now and 2050

A recent BBC article caught my eye. The headline, rather sensationalist for a forestry story, was Scotland ‘needs a billion trees’. “Wow,” I thought. “What for?” The first paragraph of the article, which is basically just a rehash of this Forestry Commission news release, reads:

Scotland must plant more than a billion trees if it is to meet a target of having 25% woodland cover by 2050, Forestry Commission Scotland has said.

”What is this target for, and who has set it?” I thought, and started digging through strategies and action plans. The target was set in the Scottish Forestry Strategy 1, which is the Scottish Government’s framework for ‘taking forestry through the first part of this century and beyond’. It was laid before the Scottish Parliament in October 2006. From the Strategy’s Executive Summary:

We would like to see Scotland’s woodlands increase from 17.1% of our land area to about 25%. Work done for Forestry Commission Scotland by Macaulay Research Consultancy Services indicates that this is feasible.

According to the Forestry Commission’s Forestry Facts & Figures 2008 2 and Forestry Statistics 2008 3, there were 1,342,000 hectares of woodland in Scotland as of the 31st of March 2008 – approximately 17.2% of the land area. Therefore an increase to 25% woodland cover will require the creation of approximately 610,000 ha of woodland. I’ve no idea where the BBC got their ‘billion trees’ number from, as I’m sure that ‘trees per hectare’ is a highly variable figure.

The Scottish Government’s Rationale For Woodland Expansion 4 - their Woodland Expansion Strategy – lists a number of woodland creation priorities identified in the Scottish Forestry Strategy under the heading ‘Why do we want more woodland?’:

  • Helping to tackle greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Restoring lost habitats and adapting to climate change.
  • Helping to manage ecosystem services.
  • Underpinning a sustainable forest products industry.
  • Supporting rural development.
  • Providing community benefits.
  • Enhancing urban areas and improving landscapes.

The first two priorities are by far the most important in my opinion. As everybody knows, trees capture (or sequester) carbon through photosynthesis. By creating more woodlands, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere decreases and the amount of carbon locked up in forest soils and biomass increases, thus contributing towards the mitigation of climate change. Unsurprisingly, woodland creation features in the Scottish Climate Change Action Plan 2009 - 2011 5, which was launched on the 2nd of February 2009 by Scotland’s Minister for Environment, Michael Russell, and makes for very interesting reading. The Action Plan ties in with the Scottish Forestry Strategy. The November 2008 consultation paper, Climate Change and the National Forest Estate: Consultation on forestry provision in the Scottish Climate Change Bill 6, says it best in this passage:

Many types of woodland creation can contribute cost-effectively towards net emissions reduction, and there is potential to increase Scotland’s woodland and forest area in order to take more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. The Scottish Forestry Strategy includes an aspiration to achieve 25% woodland cover in Scotland by the second half of this century. Achieving this will mean creating about 10,000 ha of new woodlands each year, locking up an additional 0.2 Million tonnes per year (Mt/yr) of carbon by 2020 and an additional 1.2 Mt/yr by 2050.

That’s a fair old increase in carbon sequestration and woodland cover!


References
1 The Scottish Forestry Strategy is available from: http://www.forestry.gov.uk/sfs.
2 Forestry Facts & Figures 2008 is available from: http://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/infd-7j5evb.
3 Forestry Statistics 2008 is available from: http://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/infd-7j5evb.
4 The Scottish Government’s Rationale For Woodland Expansion is available from: http://www.forestry.gov.uk/woodlandexpansion (Woodland Expansion Strategy link).
5 The Scottish Climate Change Action Plan 2009 - 2011 is available from: http://www.forestry.gov.uk/ccapscotland.
6 Climate Change and the National Forest Estate: Consultation on forestry provision in the Scottish Climate Change Bill is available from: http://www.forestry.gov.uk/fcsclimateconsultation.


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