Angela Douglas: Celebrating growth of forests and woods and those who care for them

PEOPLE love trees.

pupils outside Levenmouth Academy in Buckhaven, Fife

You might feel instinctively that this is true, but the statistics prove it too. Public attitude surveys conducted every two years by Forest Research consistently show the warmth people have for our forests and woods. We love them and they make us feel good.

The latest (UK-wide) survey, published in June 2019, said 93 per cent of people agreed forests and woodlands are important to them because they “provide a space to relax and de-stress”. 88 per cent of those surveyed agreed “a lot more trees should be planted”.

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On that basis, it is really positive that all political parties committed to a significant increase in tree planting during the general election campaign in December 2019.

In Scotland, we are planting far more trees than anywhere else in the UK – around 84 per cent of all UK planting according to the latest figures for 2018-19. Tree cover in Scotland is currently around 19 per cent, compared to just 10 per cent in England and 13 per cent across the UK as a whole - much lower than the European average of more than 35 per cent.

And in Scotland, we don’t just love our trees, we also love to celebrate the fact that people love our magnificent trees, woods and forests – with the annual Scotland’s Finest Woods Awards.

This year is the 35th anniversary of the Awards, which shine a light on fine forests and wonderful woods –and those inspiring individuals who bring them to life.

Last year, an enormous range of groups and individuals were rewarded – from a nursery school helping youngsters discover the wonder of woodland for the first time and a high school in Fife planting an amazing 8000 trees, right through to experienced professionals managing a very large forest in the Highlands over many generations.

Winners also came from as far afield as Beirhope, near Kelso in the Scottish Borders, the island of Iona and Michaelswood Public Amenity in Aith, Shetland – not a part of Scotland renowned for its large numbers of trees!

The winners might have come from all over Scotland, but they shared a common passion and enthusiasm for trees and woods – of all shapes, sizes and species.

Fergus Ewing MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy, has presented the Finest Woods awards for the last three years and has proved a real enthusiast himself for our forests and woods – and the people behind them. At last year’s awards ceremony at the Royal Highland Show, he said: “The winners represent those exceptional individuals and groups who create fantastic spaces to allow us all to enjoy our forests and woods.”

Nicola Sturgeon MSP, Scotland’s First Minister, joined us to present the Schools Award in 2019 and recognised the huge significance of children engaging with nature. She said: “It’s wonderful to see young people in Scotland, from nursery through to secondary school, engaging with trees and our natural environment in such a positive way. We know how children benefit enormously from learning outdoors and it is great to see forests and woodlands playing a big part in that.”

It was wonderful to see that in action as three pupils from Levenmouth Academy spoke positively at the awards ceremony about the tree planting at their school – and it was clear just how much it meant to them. The winners of the Schools Award, Earthtime Forest School Nursery in Duffus, Moray, offer children the chance to spend their whole nursery session outside in the woods – providing unlimited, uninterrupted play and learning opportunities.

At the other end of the scale, dedicated professionals were honoured for managing Fort Augustus Woodlands in the Highlands over generations – with the one-off centenary award to mark the Forestry Act of 1919.

Back in 1919, the Act began a process of reforesting Scotland after centuries of the landscape being denuded of trees, especially as part of the war efforts. Just over 100 years later, Scotland is once again grasping the nettle and driving up tree planting rates, and we can see a future where our landscape is more tree-lined than in any of our lifetimes.

That should make us all happy –because people love trees.

Angela Douglas is Executive 
Director of Scotland’s Finest Woods Awards. The deadline for the 2020 Awards is 31 March and 
winners will be honoured at the 
Royal Highland Show on Friday 19 June.

Full details: