Scottish Govt urged to expand woodlands to achieve net-zero emissions

The Trust and nine other expert organisations have written to the First Minister suggesting natural solutions to meet climate targets

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22 May 2019

Dear First Minister,

Natural climate solutions to deliver net-zero emissions

We, the undersigned organisations, are writing to you in support of the Scottish Government’s declaration of a climate emergency and the commitment to transitioning to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045 at the latest.

We would like to draw attention to some important aspects that were not mentioned in the Committee on Climate Change report (Net Zero - The UK’s Contribution to Stopping Global Warming, May 2019), but which Scotland is well-placed to deliver on.

The Committee on Climate Change report states that the five-year difference between Scotland’s goal and that of the UK reflects “Scotland’s greater relative capacity to remove emissions than the UK as a whole”. The report further states, “the significant opportunity for large increases in forest area in Scotland that offsets larger emissions from degraded peatland.” and notes that, “around 20 per cent of land in Scotland is currently forested… which could rise to almost 30 per cent under deep emissions reduction scenarios.”

Woodland expansion, peatland and habitat restoration, local timber processing, community led afforestation and a reduction in timber transport would deliver a significant and cost-effective response to this climate emergency.

WWF’s Living Planet Report confirmed an overall decline in species populations of 60%, and a recently released UN report finds that 1 million species are at risk of extinction. The State of Nature 2016 UK report stated that 1 in 11 native species in Scotland are at risk of extinction.

Ecological and climate crises are interlinked, and the Scottish Government will require the support and efforts of Scotland’s local people and communities to address these crises. Changes in land use through afforestation will have an impact on communities, local economies, and on aspects of the environment, in both positive and negative ways. We see significant opportunities for local communities to derive economic and social benefits from the expansion of appropriate, sustainable forestry. Such expansion must always seek to maximise environmental, social and local economic benefits and avoid any unintended consequences.

Some of the steps that could be taken to realise an expanded and more sustainable forest estate in Scotland include:

  • Significant proportions of new native woodland and productive broadleaved woodland. This woodland should be approximately equal to new areas of predominantly Sitka spruce plantations.
  •  Encouraging community participation in afforestation, through Government policies and levers, such as land reform, the Land Use Strategy, and Rural Development grants.
  • Ensuring afforestation does not impact negatively on species which depend on open ground habitats such as peatlands and wetlands; and that new tree planting does not result in large scale disturbance of soils, leading to large fluxes of Greenhouse Gases (GHGs).
  • Reducing deer numbers to sustainable levels – levels at which natural regeneration of trees occur. This would reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions from organic soils and would result in tree establishment and planting at lower public and private cost.
  • Support for small scale forest businesses, agroforestry and productive mixed woodlands, with more timber being processed closer to the timber source, and commensurate reductions in GHGs from timber transport.

Yours sincerely,
WJ Ross, Chair, Community Woodland Association
Emily Taylor, General Manager, Crichton Carbon Centre
Anna Lawrence, Convenor, Forest Policy Group
Andrew Bachell, Chief Executive, John Muir Trust
Alan Carter, Chair, Reforesting Scotland
James Hepburne Scott FICFor (Hon), Vice President, Royal Scottish Forestry Society
Vicki Swales, Head of Land Use Policy, RSPB Scotland
Jo Pike, Chief Executive, Scottish Wildlife Trust
Steve Micklewright, CEO, Trees for Life
Carol Evans, Director, Woodland Trust Scotland