CUTTING DOWN trees plays an important part in the sustainable forestry cycle but is often overshadowed by tree planting efforts.

Ahead of COP26, Forestry and Land Scotland is reminding people of the importance of forest harvesting and forest management in responding to the climate emergency.

With much focus on planting trees as a vital effort to capture carbon emissions, the organisation stresses that tree harvesting – when part of sustainable forest management – is even more important.

Felling conifers to provide softwood for timber processors is all part of a sustainable forestry cycle – planting and growing trees specifically for the wood and always replanting in areas that are cut down. It is the fundamental business of foresters in managing forests to produce a naturally renewable and sustainable resource.

FLS’ Head of Planning and Environment, Jo Ellis, pointed out that the benefits of this cycle not only include making carbon emissions 'work for us rather than against us' but also provide a wide range of habitats for wildlife, protecting native woodland – giving FLS a chance to adapt its forests to better withstand future climate conditions.

She said: “Every year, we aim to bring 3,000,000 cubic metres of timber to market – that’s enough to cover a football pitch with a stack of timber 350m high – 50m higher than Britain’s tallest building (The Shard)! Or enough to provide just over 200,000 timber framed housing units.

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“As a general rule of thumb, that’s about the same as 3,000,000 tonnes of captured CO2 emissions – the equivalent of 3,000,000 HGV trips between Edinburgh and London - that can be turned into useful products," she explained.

“A small amount of that timber (approx. 5%) is used for renewable heat generation but the majority of it – and the captured carbon it embodies – is made into products that help us in our day-to-day lives, such as paper, cardboard packaging, fence posts or timber frames for houses. But more importantly felling trees opens up a piece of land so that more trees can be planted to start capturing more emissions.

“The amazing thing is that the trees we fell in any given year will have been planted around 40 years previously – and every year we plant 25 million more trees for the foresters of the future to harvest in 40 years’ time.”

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Each year, FLS will harvest around 2% of the forest that it manages. Felling trees also provides an opportunity to create a new forest that is made up of a mix of species that will both be better able to withstand climate changes in years to come, and offer a greater range of habitats to better sustain biodiversity.

Ms Ellis added: “Our sustainably managed conifer forests already sustain around 2000 species. They provide a range of habitats that are hugely valuable for 42 threatened species on the IUCN Red Data List, with 29 of those species also benefiting from Sitka spruce plantations.

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“By adapting our productive forests, by giving them a greater mix of species and ages, we can make them even more beneficial for wildlife and biodiversity," she continued. “All of this is achieved through the forest cycle and is absolutely vital to our ongoing effort to mitigate the climate emergency.”