A MARKED increase in Scotland's yearly tree planting figures has been described as 'very encouraging' by Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing.

Figures just released show that 7100 hectares of new woodland was planted during 2017/18, a rise of 2300 hectares from the previous year, making Scotland responsible for 78% of the UK's total new woodland creation. England planted 1500 ha in the same period, while Wales and Northern Ireland planted around 200 ha each.

Around 60% of Scotland's new 7100 ha are ‘productive’ planting – specifically aimed at growing sustainable timber – the highest level since 2000. This future supply is crucial for Scotland’s home-grown timber processors, who have invested heavily in recent years in places such as the extended Norbord plant at Dalcross near Inverness.

These new planting figures would have been even higher, but extreme winter weather delayed over 800 hectares of planting until later in the year, too late to be included in the reporting period.

However, despite the positive trend, the annual target of planting 10,000 hectares each year has not been reached. Plans and approvals already made for more tree planting in 2018 suggest that figures will be higher still for the current year.

Mr Ewing said: “Obviously I want to see us achieving our ambitious planting target and perhaps if we hadn’t had such a sustained period of unseasonal extreme weather, we would have been very close.

“But we are still leading the way in creating woodland in the UK, planting significantly more trees than any other nation. And with the completion of all the actions in the Mackinnon review, and intensive work with all parts of the sector, confidence is high, and next year is looking very promising indeed," he said.

“We’ve supported a good mix of woodland types, with 40% native and over 4000 hectares of productive planting, the highest productive level since the year 2000. There is a renewed buzz and confidence in the industry and I am confident that our planting levels will continue to rise in future years.”

In last year’s spending review, Mr Ewing increased the 2018/19 Forestry Grants Scheme budget from £40m to £46m to enable more woodland and tree planting projects to go ahead next planting season.

The Mackinnon review of the tree planting approval process was carried out last year resulting in a streamlining of the procedures, which combined with an improved Forestry Grants Scheme, havew greatly improved the conditions for planting of all types of woodland.

Confor chief executive Stuart Goodall commented: “I’m heartened to see this increase, especially the proportion of productive trees planted which are so vital to support Scotland’s important forestry and wood processing industry. We now need to press on and ensure we meet and exceed 10,000 hectares a year to support rural jobs and lock up carbon.”

Many people are involved in woodland creation activity across Scotland, including farmers, community groups, private individuals and investors, as well as forest nurseries and forestry contracting businesses. Over 9000 ha of private sector schemes have been approved for 2018 and Forest Enterprise Scotland expects to create around 650ha on the National Forest Estate. A further 2500ha of schemes have been submitted to Forestry Commission Scotland for consideration.

Scotland's 10,000 ha a year woodland creation target remains in place until 2020-2021, but thereafter there will be a stepped increase to 15,000 ha by 2024-2025.