LARGE-SCALE tree planting is helping protect communities from flooding, according to Scottish Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment, Mairi Gougeon.

Visiting Jerah Forest – planted on a large, hilly site in Clackmannanshire, purposefully to protect the village of Menstrie, which was badly affected by flooding in 2004 and 2012, Ms Gougeon said: “Jerah Forest is one of Scotland’s largest newly planted productive woodlands. It’s a great example of multi-purpose forestry that we want to see for the future, delivering woodland creation, carbon sequestration, timber production, recreation and flood management – all on a landscape scale."

During the creation of Jerah, 1.3 million trees – including 16 different conifer and broadleaf species – were planted in early 2015. The process involved engagement with archaeologists to preserve historically important buildings on the site and enhanced public access for walkers and fell runners – and paragliders.

Although timber production is the primary long-term aim of Jerah, it also aims to secure other benefits, including flood risk mitigation, peatland restoration, public access and habitats for birds. The woodland is only just establishing, but already a pair of short-eared owls have nested on the site, black grouse are using the upper margins, and red kites, kestrels and buzzards are frequent visitors.

Two PhD studies are underway by Heriot Watt University to examine the risk of water run-off from different types of planting and to record the impact on Menstrie below. The aim is to learn more about appropriate soil cultivation and the role of woody debris in natural flood management in a flood-prone area – and to learn lessons for planting future forests.

Chief Executive of forestry and wood trade body Confor, Stuart Goodall, said: “Modern forestry is providing so many solutions to the challenges facing modern Scottish society it’s hard to know where to begin – responding to climate change, creating green jobs, farm diversification and much more.

"Jerah is a canvas on which we can see young trees painting a picture of integrated business and environment, protecting local jobs as well as protecting local people from flooding. There is a growing body of evidence that planting new forests holds back heavy rainfall and helps to intercept water before entering streams and ultimately flowing down-river to communities like Menstrie. The flood monitoring work being undertaken at Jerah should further enhance our knowledge of the considerable benefits from modern multi-purpose forests to the benefit of other threatened communities."