New guidance issued by Scottish Forestry is encouraging the use of 'less disruptive' techniques when preparing the ground for tree planting.

This will be particularly targeted at reducing ploughing on peaty soils, which are a great storing medium for carbon unless disturbed, and are also vital for biodiversity.

After October 1, Scottish Forestry will not accept any Forestry Grant Scheme applications which include ploughing on soils where peat depth exceeds 10 cm.

The move follows scientific analysis of soils carried out by the Forest Research agency, which found that ploughing on soils with an organic layer greater than 10cm represented a significant risk of soil carbon emissions and might mean that the soil does not begin to sequester carbon again for another 20 years or more.

Welcoming the move, Minister for Environment, Biodiversity and Land Reform, Màiri McAllan, said: “Our forests and woodlands have a huge part to play in tackling climate change by soaking up millions of tonnes of harmful emissions while supporting the Scottish economy – generating around £1 billion each year and supporting 25,000 jobs. As such, it is important to review and update guidance for the industry.

“The use of ploughing to prepare ground for planting is declining but we’re determined that we should do everything we can to protect our environment and climate," said Ms McAllan. "That’s why these changes mean that approval for new applications will no longer be given on any peat soils over 10cm in depth after October 1. Only less intensive cultivation techniques will now be approved.

“I’m pleased that the sector has engaged on this issue and some forestry companies are already finding alternative methods. By following this new guidance we can achieve a better balance between minimising soil disturbance and giving our trees the best chance of reabsorbing released carbon as quickly as possible.”

The new 'Cultivation for Upland Productive Woodland Creation Sites – an Applicant’s Guide' will take effect from October 1 this year, providing forestry companies a few months to change any future ploughing plans. The guidance has been developed after extensive consultation with a wide range of relevant stakeholders over the past two years.

Over the past few years about 5% (circa 600 to 700ha) of all new woodland creation applications in Scotland proposed ploughing as a method of ground preparation. However, ploughing has often been one of a number of cultivation techniques used on the same location, depending upon soil type and slope. The new guidance offers technical advice on the options available to protect soils, improve water management improve forest stability and maintain the landscape.

In 2019, Scottish Forestry reduced the Forestry Grant Scheme rates for woodland creation where ploughing was the cultivation method used. Higher rates of grant are still paid for less intensive methods such as inverted mounding.