FORESTRY AND wood is a thriving £1 billion industry in Scotland in 2020 – but trees take a long time to grow and the eyes of a forester are always on the future.

Edinburgh-based trade body Confor represents 1500 businesses across the UK and has a global perspective on the benefits of tree planting, forest management and wood use. Here, Confor's chief executive Stuart Goodall, explains why #TheFutureIsForestry in five key dates.


COP26 summit - putting Scotland on the global map

The environmental super-summit COP26 was due to take place in Glasgow next month (November), and offered amazing opportunities to put Scotland's significant climate change ambitions on the international map.

Covid-19 has pushed the event back into late 2021, with the summit now likely to be on a smaller scale than initially planned. However, it's vital Scotland does not also scale back its ambition to tackle the climate emergency. So far it has been a global leader, with the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 setting world-leading standards and The Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019, putting Scotland’s path to net zero ahead of the rest of the UK (see below).

Scotland has also been ahead of the game in realising there are limits to taking actions to reduce emissions, and understanding the need to pursue policies which remove atmospheric carbon - including tree planting.


Meeting Scotland’s tree planting targets

Scotland plants more than 80% of new UK woodland every year. It exceeded its 2018-19 tree planting target of 10,000 hectares of new woodland per year, planting 11,200 hectares - around half of that was planted areas of 50 hectares or less, including many Scottish farms. In 2019-20, just under 11,000 hectares were planted in Scotland, but the target of 12,000 hectares in 2020-21 looks likely to be met thanks to a strong pipeline of applications.

One farmer who benefited was Tom Pate, who manages Middleton Farm near Kirriemuir, Angus. Felling existing trees and selling them commanded a higher price than expected and he was able to link up different patches of woodland when he re-planted. This created more commercially viable blocks of woodland, with other parcels replanted to retain the aesthetic value of the farm. In addition, 130 hectares of new woodland were created on poorer-quality grazing land, with grants available to pay for planting and fencing.

Mr Pate described forestry as 'historically a headache but now the catalyst to rejuvenate the farm'. One spin-off benefit was using space between fenced-off areas of trees to create a herd of 200 deer for venison, in addition to retaining sheep grazing.

In September, the Scottish Government increased its annual new planting target for 2024-25 from 15,000 to 18,000 hectares.


Plugging the timber gap

Scotland is heading for a ‘timber gap’, as a result of the drop-off in tree planting in the 1990s and early 2000s. Despite increased planting in recent years, a shortfall of wood is forecast in the late 2030s and 2040s. Short rotation forestry (SRF), with trees planted and harvested in 8-20, rather than 30+ years, is one potential solution being examined to help plug the gap.

Unlike ‘conventional’ forestry, SRF need not be a permanent land-use. Added to its shorter rotation length, this means it could be attractive to farmers, including tenant farmers, as a means to develop additional income streams and contribute to decarbonising agriculture - at a time when farmers want guaranteed post-CAP funding and are under pressure to reduce emissions.

The wood produced from SRF is not strong enough for construction, but can support a range of uses, including board factories (making products used for flooring and household units), firewood, wood chips and pellets, and potentially as a replacement for chemicals, textiles and many other products.


Net zero

Scotland is more ambitious than the UK in its efforts to reduce carbon emissions, with a target of 2045 against the UK’s 2050 for ‘net zero’ - the date by which total greenhouse gas emissions would be equal to or less than emissions removed from the environment. With emissions reductions from existing industry only able to deliver finite benefits, the focus is on removing atmospheric carbon, with forestry a vital contributor. Scotland has always linked planting targets clearly to climate change ambitions and understands the multiple benefits of modern forestry. In many industries, increased economic activity has a negative environmental impact. The forestry and wood industry can deliver economic, environmental (and social) benefits simultaneously - because growing trees soak up carbon from the atmosphere, and carbon can then be stored in wood products.


Global timber demand quadruples

The World Bank has estimated global demand for wood could quadruple by 2050. At the moment, the UK is the world’s second largest net importer of wood after China - with 80% of the wood used for UK domestic consumption imported. This is a stark figure and can put pressure on fragile forests overseas and encourage illegal logging. An investigation by environmental charity Earthsight found up to 40% of wood sold to the European Union from Ukraine was illegally cut. Confor is urging the Scottish and UK governments to ‘Think Global, Plant Local’ and take more long-term responsibility for producing the timber we use. It welcomes the increased the target for the use of Scottish wood in construction from 2.2 million cubic meters (2018) to 2.6 million cubic meters in 2021/2022.

Confor is involved in Wood CO2ts less, a campaign to highlight the benefits of using more wood in place of more CO2-intensive materials like concrete and steel. A European analysis of the impact of using wood instead of concrete suggested an average reduction of 2.1 tons of CO2 emissions per 1 ton of wood products used, while an average timber frame home locks up 5 tonnes of carbon, about three years of an average person’s carbon footprint.

Are you interested in tree planting?

Search for the Forestry Grant Scheme, administered by Scottish Forestry and the Scottish Government, a one-stop shop for all forestry-related grant support:

or contact Confor for advice - 0131 240 1410 or