SCOTLAND'S forests are in deep decline, threatening jobs and carbon-cutting targets, despite a Scottish Government pledge to plant 100 million new trees by 2015, industry experts have warned.
A new report by ConFor, the Confederation of Forest Industries, shows 24,000 hectares of productive forest - the type used by the timber industry - have been lost in the last five years.
ConFor blames the loss of land to windfarms, with promises of trees planted by way of compensation not always followed through.
Trees have also been lost due to forests being redesigned as part of biodiversity initiatives.
The group wants 9,000 hectares of trees planted every year until 2020 - a commitment, it claims, would safeguard hundreds of green jobs and create hundreds more, attract 600 million of business investment and cut CO2 emissions by 3.6million tonnes.
The report says: "Existing bureaucracy and regulation is standing in the way of increased planting. Forestry is a unique industry - the more economic activity, the greater the environmental benefit. It is Scotland's only carbon-cutting industry."
The decline has sparked concerns in the timber industry. Tony Hackney, chief executive of BSW, the largest sawmilling business in Great Britain, with four sites in Scotland and 670 employees across the UK, said: "We must have security of supply. That's the question everyone asks - 'have you got the timber?'."
Tom Bruce Jones, joint managing director of sawmiller James Jones & Sons, which employs 450 people in Scotland, added: "The impact of a drop in planting will be simple - investment could justdrop off the edge of a cliff."
Tree planting is crucial to the environment as trees capture and store carbon and wood is less energy intensive than materials such as brick, steel and plastic.
Stuart Goodall, chief executive of ConFor, said: "The voice of the industry leaders is clear - the drop in productive planting must be reversed quickly."
A Scottish Government spokesman said: "The Scottish Government is fully committed to increasing Scotland's forests, as illustrated by our pledge to plant 100 million trees over the next five years - the equivalent of 10,000 hectares per year. More than 25 million new trees are approved for planting, which will take us a quarter of the way towards this aim."
The Scottish Government hopes the country's woodland will increase from 1.34million hectares, to around 2million hectares by 2050.