SCOTLAND DOES not have enough productive farmland to allow the current unrestrained expansion of largescale forestry to continue.

Calling for new checks and balances on what land is taken for trees, NFU Scotland has warned that the combination of planting incentives and unregulated carbon markets is now eroding Scotland’s food security.

"I've been getting calls on a daily basis from members throughout Scotland concerned by the loss of productive fields to mass tree-planting," said union vice president Andrew Connon, who restated his fundamental opposition to the wholesale and irreversible land use change of largescale forestry expansion on agricultural land.

"In some rural areas, this is a fresh look at the Highland clearances," he warned. "We need to start seeing impact assessments done ahead of any more planting on farmland. All we are going to do is offshore our carbon emissions and increase our reliance on imported products."

NFUS has stressed that it remains 'fully supportive' of the integration of woodlands into farm businesses, and recognises the multiple benefits of properly designed forestry, including enhanced biodiversity, alternative income streams, livestock shelter and silvopasture.

However, it is deeply concerned by the trend of non-agricultural businesses purchasing land for planting to offset their own carbon emissions – and boost their green credentials. The union met recently with Cabinet Secretary Mairi Gougeon, Minister Mairi McAllan and senior officials from Scottish Government and Scottish Forestry to discuss these concerns.

Mr Connon said: “Meeting with the Cabinet Secretary and Minister, we were able to highlight a number of case studies from across Scotland that illustrated the loss of very productive agricultural land to forestry planting.

“We accept that land use is never a straight choice and integrated land use is clearly a major part of reaching net zero targets. But we are equally clear that optimal land use is the only route to attaining multiple objectives, and that must include food production, climate change ambitions and biodiversity enhancement.

“As well as the existing legal safeguards that preserve Scotland’s very limited ‘prime’ agricultural land from wholesale tree planting, NFUS believes the time is right for a more robust approach to screening planting applications on Scotland’s ‘productive’ agricultural land."

Mr Connon noted that tree-planting data painted a picture of Scotland doing well in reaching ScotGov’s planting targets – but took no account of whether woodland had been integrated within thriving farming enterprises or crowded onto once-productive land.

“We were keen to stress that loss of agricultural activity, and the families it sustains, also risks irreversible socio-economic downturn in many rural areas and that continuous agricultural land management is the best way to support communities, jobs and incomes across rural Scotland," he said.

“Every agricultural business, regardless of tenure, should be in a position to consider viable and practical woodland creation options as part of mainstream agricultural and land use policy," he added. “However, that is completely different from wholescale farm plantings that take out not only good agricultural land but also the people who are the life and soul of the community.”