The ambition is to increase tree cover from just under 19% now to 21% by 2032, and we are heading in the right direction. Scotland has planted more than 80% of the entire area of new UK woodland for the past two years and the recent news that tree planting targets for 2020-21 will be met, despite the pandemic and harsh winter weather, is very positive.
What was especially pleasing in the new planting figures was the emphasis on the variety of new woodland. Of 320 planting schemes approved, almost 200 came from smaller woodland owners, farmers and crofters.
I look forward to these woodlands popping up as entries for Scotland's Finest Woods Awards in the years ahead! For the 2021 Tree Oscars, returning after 2020’s pandemic cancellation, I'm sure we’ll hear more great stories highlighting how planting trees has made a real difference across Scotland.
In 2018, the first winner of our Farm Woodland Award, Peter Gascoigne, said planting trees on his Peebles-shire farm had provided vital shelter for livestock and led to the birth of heavier, healthier lambs - a tangible benefit to his business.
In 2019, Sandra Baer and Lynn Cassells explained how trees were at the heart of Lynbreck Croft, near Grantown on Spey, winner of the first Farm Woodland Award for Young People. Lynn said: “We try to achieve full integration of trees and woods into the farm business. They are our most valuable asset in terms of shelter for animals and fuel for us, as well as sequestering carbon and enhancing biodiversity.”
Winners in our Community Woods categories have also had inspiring stories to tell. The 2019 Large Community Woods winner, Gifford Community Woodland in East Lothian, was praised for bringing a neglected mature woodland back into long-term management, with significant biodiversity benefits and great involvement by the local community.
The Small Community Woods winner, Michaelswood Public Amenity, at Aith, Shetland (where woodlands cover is nowhere near 19%!) shows how a small woodland can become a valuable community asset - novel and fun as well as engaging and educational.
Our awards programme also rewards Scotland's finest new commercial woods, which grow the timber we need to support our wood processing industry - businesses investing heavily in sites across Scotland to support significant local employment and providing wooden products like pallets, face masks and wood fuel that have been vital during the pandemic.
These woodlands also help in our climate change ambitions. Trees soak up carbon while growing, carbon is then stored in wood products, while timber substitutes 'carbon-heavy' construction materials like concrete and steel. In the year that global environmental summit COP26 comes to Glasgow, I’m delighted that we are offering a new Climate Change Champion award in 2021 to recognise the crucial role of forestry and wood in achieving Scotland’s net-zero ambitions.
Modern forests are planted and managed to exacting standards, which means they must address impacts on wildlife, archaeology, landscape, people and much more. A recent winner of our New Commercial Woods award was Jerah, a large planting scheme in the Ochils between Dunblane and Menstrie. The scheme was carefully designed to reduce the risk of flooding in Menstrie, which has been badly affected over the years. The judges also found Jerah “significantly enhanced the recreational and environmental assets of this historic location”.
I look forward to hearing many more positive stories this year as we once again celebrate Scotland’s growing green mosaic.
Angela Douglas is Executive Director of Scotland’s Finest Woods. The 2021 Awards close on 31st March: www.sfwa.co.uk/awards-2021/