New RSPB research highlights why woodland expansion needs a strategic approach

Jess Barrett

Wednesday 10 February 2021

RSPB Abernethy nature reserve, misty view towards hills.

Scotland needs to take a more strategic approach to the big question of where to plant new woodlands to tackle the nature and climate crisis, according to new RSPB research published today.

A significant expansion in woodlands and forests is a key component in most proposals for tackling climate change. The Committee on Climate Change, advisors to governments across the UK, has suggested almost 2 million hectares of new woodland is needed across the UK by 2050. This could mean widespread change to the landscapes and habitats of Scotland. However, this change must be done in a way that benefits nature as well as climate.

New map-based research by the RSPB has identified where planting trees might be an option. These maps are indicative only and do not show where woodlands must go. They do however show that there is enough space to plant the trees needed to help fight climate change. But it also highlights that much of the land potentially available for tree planting is carbon rich, which suggests risks associated with planting in these places because it could lead to losses of carbon from the soil. Some of these areas are also of high importance to nature, for example to birds such as curlews, which could be affected by tree planting.

To avoid the carbon impacts and to create woodlands where they can make the greatest contribution for nature, it is vital that Scotland takes a more strategic approach to deciding where new woodlands should go at regional and local level, so that the right trees are planted in the right places. The recent announcement of five new pilots for Regional Land Use Partnerships is a perfect opportunity to make progress. Such partnerships could bring landowners, communities and a wide range of stakeholders together to consider the best options for using land. 

Further, the RSPB research also highlights that some kinds of woodland are especially good from both a nature and climate perspective. It found that native broadleaf woodlands, with trees such as oak and birch, are not only good for wildlife but more efficient at locking up carbon over the long-term. Whilst fast-growing conifers are needed for domestic timber production, ensuring they are planted in the right places, and a balance is struck between different kinds of woodlands, is essential. Expanding Scotland’s native woodlands is the first ask in RSPB Scotland, the Scottish Wildlife Trust and WWF Scotland’s Nature Recovery Plan.

Andrew Midgley, Senior Land Use Policy Officer at RSPB Scotland, said “These maps show where new woodlands could go in theory but, as well as needing a strategic approach, any individual tree planting proposals still needs to be checked and careful assessments made on the ground to avoid damage to nature. We hope this research contributes to the ongoing discussions about how to make Scotland ‘net zero’ by 2045 by highlighting the various factors that need to be taken into account when creating new woodlands. We face a climate and nature emergency, so let’s make sure we move forward in a way that addresses and delivers for both climate and nature at the same time.”

The new research can be found here:

Tagged with: Country: Scotland Country: Scotland Topic: Conservation Topic: Centre for Conservation Science Topic: Scotland Topic: Woodland Topic: Scotland