Scotland’s forests and woodlands
Scotland spans both the temperate and boreal forest zones. Scotland’s forest types are typical of those found in northern latitudes, including countries such as Canada and Finland, as well as parts of the USA, Russia and China.
Without human intervention, it is likely that much of Scotland would be covered by tree species of a range of types, including Scots pine and birch in the north and east, and oakwoods in the warm and wetter west.
Ever since the first foresters entered Scotland’s ancient wildwood over 6000 years ago, Scotland’s trees and woodlands have been felled and harvested. As our population grew, more wood from forests was harvested and many forests disappeared, making space for agriculture, people’s homes and infrastructure. By the early 20th century, forest cover in Scotland, as well as in the rest of the UK, was reduced to around 5%. This chronic lack of trees and timber was recognised as a strategic problem for the country, and so the Forestry Act of 1919 was introduced to address the issue.
Given this strategic need to grow more timber, the forests planted in Scotland during the subsequent 100 years were primarily, but not exclusively, designed to optimise timber production, using species from around the world that could thrive in Scotland’s relatively favourable growing conditions.
As understanding of the environment and these new forests has developed, so has the practice of modern Scottish forestry. In particular, over the second half of the 20th century, it became clear that the industrial, intensive, single-purpose forestry that dominated the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s was not sustainable, and an approach was required to embrace environmental and wider societal interests. This change of focus for forestry policy resulted in the development of comprehensive standards for forest management in the 1990s, drawing on international initiatives stemming from the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.
Scottish forestry today
Since the late 1980s, close working relationships among government, the forestry sector, and environmental and community groups have resulted in the development of a strong consensus around the need to promote and follow the internationally recognised principles of sustainable forest management. These are the principles upon which Scotland’s modern forestry legislation, practice and related policies are based.
Promoting Sustainable Forest Management
At the second Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe in 1993, sustainable forest management was defined as:
The stewardship and use of forest lands that maintains biodiversity, productivity, regeneration capacity, vitality and potential to fulfil now and in the future relevant ecological, economic and social functions at local, national and global levels and that does not cause damage to other ecosystems.
The Scottish and other governments in the UK have adopted this definition and support and promote the stewardship and use of forests and woodlands through legislation and other good practice, brought together in the UK Forestry Standard (UKFS).
The UK Forestry Standard – the benchmark for sustainable practice
The UKFS (Box 2) defines the agreed approach to sustainable forest management across all four administrations of the UK. It is reviewed every five years with the input of the forestry sector and environmental stakeholders. The UKFS sets out the regulatory requirements for forestry and is the basis for assessing felling licences and forest plans. In addition, government grants for woodland creation and forest management are conditional on meeting the UKFS requirements. Guidelines covering general forestry practice and the different elements of sustainable forest management are listed to the right.
- Climate change
- Historic environment
The Scottish Government remains committed to the use of the UKFS to help inform forest planning decisions relating to all forests and woodlands and to ensure that international agreements and conventions are applied.
Box 2 – Independent certification of sustainable forest management
In 2018 58% of Scotland's forests were UKWAS certified
The UK Woodland Assurance Standard (UKWAS) is the independent certification standard and audit protocol for verifying sustainable woodland management in Scotland and the rest of the UK. UKWAS combines the government requirements set out in the UKFS with those of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), the two independent internationally recognised voluntary certification schemes operating in the UK.
Scotland’s forest and woodland resource
In the last 100 years, forest and woodland cover in Scotland has increased from around 5% to 18.5%; this percentage is higher than the rest of the UK but is still well below the European Union (EU) average of 38% (Figure 2).
Scotland’s forest and woodland area now covers more than 1.4 million hectares (ha), one third of which is owned by Scottish Ministers, on behalf of the nation, as part of the National Forest Estate. Over 975 000 ha is privately or community owned.
Scotland’s forests consist of different woodland types and tree species, ranging from the highly productive forests of the Galloway and Tay Forest Parks to traditional mixed Highland estates, and from urban forests in and around our cities to the Atlantic oakwoods in Argyll and the native Caledonian pinewoods in the Highlands (Figure 3).
FIGURE 2 Forest woodland cover in europe.
FIGURE 3 Scotland's forest and woodland cover.
The contribution of Scotland’s forests and woodlands
Diverse and versatile forests and woodlands are located across Scotland and serve both Scotland’s rural and urban communities. When managed appropriately they can provide considerable economic and environmental benefits, as well as helping to improve people’s quality of life.
Supporting the economy
Forestry makes a substantial contribution to the economy at both national and local levels. The key economic activities are through the production of timber and other wood fibre, and through the provision of recreation and tourism assets. The majority of economic activities associated with woodland creation, management, harvesting and transportation, as well as a significant part of the processing of wood products, takes place in rural areas. The forestry sector is therefore particularly important for these communities.
The forestry and timber sector comprises tree nurseries and businesses focused on planting, managing and harvesting forests and woodlands, as well as wood processors producing a range of wood products, including sawn timber, composite boards, paper, pallets, biomass and bark. Businesses range in scale from artisan furniture-makers, family-owned contracting micro-businesses and community-based biomass enterprises, to UK-wide woodland management companies and multi-million pound panel, pulp, paper and sawmills operating internationally.
Scotland has good growing conditions for productive timber species, and a highly efficient timber-processing sector. Most of the wood produced in Scotland for downstream processing and manufacture is softwood from fast-growing conifer species. Hardwood from slower growing broadleaved species makes up a much smaller proportion of the overall harvest, but provides an important resource for the wood fuel market and high value artisan and niche construction sector products.
- 94% of Scotland's timber production was softwood in 2017
- In 2015 Scottish forestry contributed almost £1 billion Gross Value Added
- Scottish forestry employed over 25 000 full-time equivalents
In addition to the production and processing of timber and wood fibre, forest- related recreation and tourism also makes a significant contribution to the rural economy (estimated at £183 million in 2015). Scotland’s forests and woodlands help attract visitors through the unique contribution they make to iconic Scottish landscapes, and they also provide valuable venues for revenue-creating activities such as mountain bike hire and tree-top aerial adventure courses.
Enhancing the environment
Scotland’s forests and woodlands are an important resource of natural capital providing us with a range of environmental benefits which contribute to improvements in people’s quality of life such as clear air, water, timber and renewable energy (Box 3).
Box 3 – Scotland’s natural capital
Scotland’s rich and diverse forests and woodlands are important natural assets and their continuing health and improvement is vital to sustainable economic growth, not least because of their role in protecting and enhancing natural capital.
Natural capital includes stocks of air, land, water, soil, biodiversity and geological resources. It supports sectors such as agriculture, forestry, fisheries, tourism and renewables, but it is also fundamental to a healthy and resilient economy because economic growth is not sustainable if it comes at an irrecoverable cost to the natural environment.
Communities across Scotland benefit from the goods and services that flow from natural capital, including timber, food, renewable energy, water purification, flood mitigation and cultural, recreational, educational and therapeutic experiences.
The concept of natural capital is embedded in Scotland’s National Performance Framework, and Scotland was the first country in the world to develop a measure which tracks annual changes in natural capital stock. The Scottish Government continues to show leadership in using natural capital as an important tool for making better decisions that recognise the value of the environment.
In 2016, around 12 million tonnes of CO2 was removed from the atmosphere by Scotland's forests and woodlands
For example, forests and woodlands help mitigate the impact of climate change by absorbing substantial amounts of carbon. Many wood products also contribute to climate change mitigation by continuing to store captured carbon. Thus uniquely, the more economic activity in the sector, the more we can replenish and expand Scotland’s forests, helping to slow the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
The globally important environmental role of sustainably managed and appropriately planted forests has been recognised as important by international environmental organisations such as the WWF, as they can help conserve biodiversity and meet human needs by relieving pressure on more fragile native ecosystems, while contributing to sustainable economic growth and local livelihoods.
Scotland's forests and woodlands are home to 172 protected species
Forests and woodlands support a diverse range of species and are rich in biodiversity; to date, researchers at Stirling University have recorded over 1000 species associated with Scottish forests. These include 172 protected species, comprising some of Scotland’s most charismatic and recognisable species, including the pine marten, twinflower, crested tit, Scottish Crossbill, black grouse, capercaillie, as well as an estimated 75% of the UK’s red squirrel population. Forests and woodlands also help to purify our water and air, reduce flood risks, improve slope and riverbank stability, and help to decontaminate soils on post-industrial sites. They are also a key part of Scotland’s iconic landscapes, helping to frame views, adding colour and textures, and marking the passing of the seasons.
While sustainable forest management is widely seen as positive for the environment, it is recognised that there are associated risks if good practice is not followed, particularly during tree felling and ground cultivation activities. Modern forest practice has developed to mitigate environmental risks, and it is important that the sector maintains and develops these practices.
Species associated with Scottish forests:
- 257 moths
- 177 vascular plants
- 172 lichen
- 77 bryophytes
- 59 birds
- 6 bats
Improving people’s lives
Forests and woodlands provide opportunities for people to engage in healthy activities, to take more exercise and improve their physical health. There is also compelling evidence regarding the psychologically and physiologically restorative effects of greenspace: even just seeing forests and woodlands can help people cope with stress and reduce anxiety (Box 4).
63% of adults in Scotland visited a forest or woodland in 2014
Access to greenspace, forests and woodlands for children, through outdoor play and learning, is positively associated with improved self-esteem, physical health, development of language skills, disposition to learning, and attainment levels. Direct childhood experiences of forests and woodlands tends to result in adults who not only are more likely to visit and use forests and woodlands as adults, but who also better understand and appreciate the natural world and forestry.
The value of forests and woodlands for people’s quality of life is reflected in the recent growth in community ownership. Part of the reason for the growth in community woodland groups is a recognition that Scotland’s forests and woodlands can play an important role in galvanising and empowering communities: they can provide opportunities for the development of community-based enterprises and, through ownership and participation in management, can foster community cohesion and help people feel they have control over the decisions that shape their lives and the environment in which they live.
Around 200 community groups own and manage forests and woodlands in Scotland
Box 4 – Urban forestry
Scotland’s forests and woodlands play an important role in enhancing the quality of life for people living and working in Scotland’s towns and cities. They provide vital greenspace for people to enjoy and use, enhancing their physical health and mental well-being.
Urban forestry plays a key role in maintaining and expanding green networks across Scotland’s city regions, providing a landscape framework for sustainable urban development, making urban communities more attractive places for people to live and work in.
Our national forest and land assets
Approximately one third (470 000 ha) of Scotland’s forests and woodlands are on public land, owned by Scottish Ministers on behalf of the nation. These forests and woodlands are part of the National Forest Estate, which also includes a substantial area of open ground. The Estate makes a significant contribution to Scotland’s economic, social and environmental outcomes, including over £1 million per day Gross Value Added (GVA), supporting 11 000 FTEs, and welcoming 10 million visitors annually, as well as hosting nine starter farms and enough renewable energy infrastructure to produce over one billion watts of energy each year, sufficient to power 500 000 homes. In addition, the Estate is a valuable natural resource, home to thousands of species of plants and animals from the golden eagle and red deer to some of the rarest plant species in the UK, and helps to improve the physical, emotional and mental well-being of visitors.
- £1 million Gross Value Added per day
- 11 000 full-time equivalents
- 500 000 homes powered by renewable energy
- 10 million annual visitors
- 9 starter farms
Email: Bob Frost