It would seem whether fighting in the name of the fatherland, the motherland or the homeland, that the word ‘land’ has probably been at the back of every conflict since mankind could wield a club.

Land is a dear and precious thing and people everywhere instinctively see keeping control of their territory as key to their survival – everywhere it seems except Scotland, where government gives away control and hard pressed taxpayers money to super wealthy ‘foreign interests’ so they can destroy farmland in the pretence of climate change mitigation.

If Putin had only come to Scotland with a vague promise of tree planting to offset his gas industry emissions, our government could have opened up their big forestry grant money cupboard and told him to ‘fill his boots’ with our land and taxpayer’s money.

The blue and yellow flag that Ukrainians proudly fight under is said to depict their farmed heritage and landscape. I read in The SF that, as people, Ukrainians have a great affinity for the soil and their land.

This is said to come from memories of the ‘Holodomor’, a famine that killed 3.5m of their countrymen in the 1930s. This was a man-made famine which occurred within the breadbasket of Europe caused by the political doctrines of far-off city bound elite who thought they ‘knew best’.

Facts are paramount, but even in our world where free speech is taken for granted, facts sometimes get buried in mountains of information or are ignored by popular narratives reinforced again and again in an opinionated media, that instinctively knows it is good business to tell customers just what they want to hear.

‘Tree planting is good for the environment’ is one such popular narrative few in that media or our corridors of power seem able to resist.

Seduced by rhetoric?

Even bodies that should have taken the time to know better, like NFU Scotland, open their negotiation with talk of ‘integrating farming and forestry’, partly because they are seduced by that trendy word ‘integration’, but mostly because their full-time policy making teams are either too inert to check the facts, or have been on so many ‘land use’ committees they’ve gone native.

At a recent local NFUS meeting – held following concerns of the amount of land going to forestry – the latest solution of the union’s high heid yins was to ask for increased financial incentives for farmers so they can also plant more trees! Seriously, that’s the answer?

Those concerned about amount of land being lost to forestry in places like Galloway must stop using the language of compromise. As a rep ‘of RSPB put it so well ‘all the forest industry wants is just a little bit more land and after that, all they will want is just another little bit more land’ and so on.

They don’t care how their forests creep across the landscape, whether it’s a large shelter belt, the back of a hill, or sequential planting at the front of a hill … or the few fields that are left.

They keep relentlessly chewing away at Scotland to try to satisfy the insatiable demand of their tax dodging clientele and a new breed of far-off corporate investor trying to offset their business’ responsibilities (and their shareholders short-lived guilt) for the long term harm they have done to the planet.

It doesn’t matter if it is a large area of open farmland – a habitat crucial for conserving hard pressed ground nesting birds, like the curlew, the supposed ‘panda of UK conservation’ – or land backing directly onto the thousands of Sitka clad acres of the Galloway Forest Park. It just all gets integrated and covered in more Sitka.


The panda of UK conservation? – 5000 breeding pairs of curlew are reckoned to have been lost to Galloway and Border hills through afforestation

The panda of UK conservation? – 5000 breeding pairs of curlew are reckoned to have been lost to Galloway and Border hills through afforestation


Green groups gagged and neutered

While Scotland’s land is forced down a one way street where land gets planted and legally cannot come back out of trees, supposed environmental bodies like NatureScot and SEPA have been gagged and neutered by concordant agreements with Scottish Forestry that they have been forced to accept by an urban bound government that ‘knows best’.

What does it know best? – that at around 18%, Scotland’s forest cover is lower than the European average and to them this lack of ‘being average’ is something that must be corrected by state doctrine. That our Nationalist government hasn’t the courage to believe in Scotland as it is, says so much.

That’s not a political point by the way, because to me the future of our land is far more important than meaningless short-term politics.

In response to forestry planting proposals for thousands more acres of Galloway, there was recently a panel discussion held in the village of New Galloway.

In the spirit of ‘facts being paramount’, I thought I would put forward a few statistics when the meeting opened to the floor.

As I was trying to put forward the point that, at 8m m3 of timber, Scotland was already producing well above the European average, I was interrupted by a prominent forestry industry representative telling me my ‘figures are wrong’.

He then went on to quote a figure of 6m m3 as being the ‘correct’ Scottish timber output. Facts are paramount, so on checking this point later that evening, I noted government quoted figures, sourced from the Forestry Commission for 2013 onwards, showed Scotland producing on average 8.55m m3 per year.

Thing is, the person who was telling me my ‘figures were wrong’ is manager/director of one of the UK’s (and probably Europe’s) biggest timber processors.

Prior to that, he spent many years specialising in timber procurement for the same business. Incredibly, his figures – so freely given to a public meeting – underestimated Scottish annual timber supplies by between 40-50%.

This is important because this is someone whose opinions have the ear of the Press and government, yet if government’s own figures are correct, it seems he doesn’t actually know the extent of Scotland’s timber resource, but still uses his influence to tell us all that we need to plant more and more of our hills and glens with Sitka regardless.


New life on the hill ... or an old life destroyed. Jim Ramsay puts forward an argument against wholesale tree planting without first considering some true facts

New life on the hill ... or an old life destroyed. Jim Ramsay puts forward an argument against wholesale tree planting without first considering some true facts


Scotland is already above the Euro average

To finish the point I tried to make, Scotland has a land area of 7.8m ha and a population of 5m and despite much of the country being unsuitable for forestry (28.1% is high, windy, rocky mountain, so called forest land class 7 and land that won’t grow trees and a further 23% is naturally treeless peat-filled blanket bog) Scotland still produces around 8.55m m3 of timber annually.

By comparison Europe, as a whole, has a land area of 620m ha (excluding Russia) and has a population of 627m and produces 542.5m m3 of timber (State of Europe’s Forest Report 2020).

If you do the arithmetic, Scotland by land area currently produces 25% above the European average and by population (probably a more useful assessment of a country’s timber requirements) we produce double the timber of the European average on a per capita basis.

Not bad in a country where more than half the land area is totally unsuited to forestry.

Further, according to the National Forest Inventory, our timber production is set to soar further to 12m m3 by 2030. So in just eight years’ time, Scotland will be producing around three times more timber than the European average on a per capita basis and getting on for double on land area basis.

For context, further consider that Europe (UK included) is a net timber exporter (30m m3 surplus) produced from a vast and growing timber resource felled at a sustainable 73% of annual incremental forest growth.

Further, Europe currently burns 112m m3 of roundwood (and could burn more, such is it’s abundance) and burns tens of millions of tonnes of waste wood, all of which could be recycled into useful products like particleboard, but is simply not needed such is the abundance of virgin timber.

All this is in a world where roughly half of all timber produced annually is burnt, thus constituting around 4-5% of all anthropogenic warming (Jacobsen 2010) in soot effects alone.

That still excludes the global warming effect of all the emissions of CO2 , methane and nitrous oxide emitted at combustion.


Wood chips will they be counted as carbon stores when they are burnt?

Wood chips will they be counted as carbon stores when they are burnt?


Why we can’t be compared with Europe

Returning to the point on Scotland’s supposed low forest cover, while trees grow up to 6000-7000 feet across much of continental Europe, because of Scotland’s windy maritime climate it has a maximum commercial forest treeline around 1500 feet.

This area combines with other windy, rocky terrain to make up Scotland’s 28.1% land class 7 area that’s unsuitable for forestry.

Also 1.8m ha, or 23% of Scotland, is covered in naturally treeless blanket bog where peat measures more than 50cm. Although the Forestry Commission has proved, to bad effect, in places like the Flow Country that this land will grow trees it’s proven to be a bad idea for climate change mitigation.

An important point is that this 1.8m ha of tiny Scotland is a substantial part of the world’s blanket bog area and 8-10% of the total world’s such resource by some calculations and this same blanket bog cover is barely found across Europe.

To try and make comparisons between Scotland’s forest cover and the rest of Europe’s forest cover, without taking these two huge areas into account, is simply plain stupid!

When these are taken into account, our cover probably works out to be spot on in terms of ‘being average’ for those who desperately desire ‘average’ as an accolade.

Some facts to ponder

Facts are paramount (again) and so for those still obsessed with the idea of planting trees as a climate mitigation strategy, consider the following:

• There have been few actual measurements of soil carbon changes following afforestation of organo-mineral soils (shallow peat, less than 50cm) in the UK uplands (Reynolds 2007).

However, one such study by Edinburgh University researchers of a Sitka forest at the Forestry Commission’s study site at Harwood forest in Northumberland on soils very similar to much of southern Scotland, recorded a massive 134 tonnes/ha loss over the first 40-year rotation which is a similar amount as the carbon accumulated in the trees.

• This soil carbon loss that occurred throughout the rotation was then followed by a further additional large soil carbon loss at clearfell, which was followed by a slow recovery through the second rotation reaching a balance 80 years after initial planting (Zerva/Mencuccini 2005).

• Other studies at FC Harwood forest showed an additional significant nitrous oxide warming emissions equivalent to 10% of the cooling effect of the growing trees (Ball et al 2003).

• In a similar study (Benanti et al 2014) found the net effect of the land use change from wet grassland to Sitka forest also reduced the assumed CO2 global warming amelioration capacity by 10% through the release of nitrous oxide, producing a warming effect of around 13-15 tonnes carbon per ha, per rotation.

• This loss and slow recovery (as per Zerva/Mencuccini 2005) in the second rotation appears to be UK Forest Research official line on this point (Venguelova 2018).

A caveat to this is, as observed in one US study, was calculating soil carbon levels among ruts and upturned root systems etc after all the upheaval of clearfell was an almost impossible task.

In terms of native broadleaf trees, another of the few long term studies of soil carbon in the UK was the Scottish government-sponsored John Miles Birch Plots study designed to replicate the natural regeneration of birch woodland on heather moor, again on shallow peat.

An important point is birch is by far Scotland’s most common native broadleaf species and as it turns out in this, the only study of actual on the ground data in Scotland, demonstrated a 12.5% loss of soil carbon over a mere 25-year period.

Since, on average, organo-mineral soils contain around 320 tonnes carbon, this equates to the loss of 40 tonnes carbon for what was described in the study as poor tree growth and carbon losses greater than gains in carbon sequestrated by trees.

This demonstrated loss of soil carbon from both production and native broadleaf forests is not something unusual or particular to Scotland and was clearly demonstrated in the overarching IPCC 2000 Special Report on land use, land use change and forestry.

This report was specially prepared by a group of international scientists in order to inform the Kyoto Protocol in response to a request by the UN.

At the start, it laid out the ‘Global Carbon Cycle Overview’, stating ‘current carbon stocks are much larger in soils than vegetation, particularly in non-forested eco systems in middle and high latitudes.


Table 1

Table 1


Looking at Table 1, this comment becomes understandable and it’s easy to deduce that temperate grasslands’ eco-systems store double the carbon of temperate forest eco-systems; and at 236 tonnes of carbon per ha as opposed to 96 tonnes/ha, it is clear that temperate grassland soils store 2.5-times more carbon per ha than forest soils.

Backing this up – if a report of such weight needed any backing – the study ‘Temporal dynamics of soil carbon after land use change in the temperate zone’ found, on the basis of 95 compiled studies covering 322 sites in the temperate zone, there was no soil organic carbon sink following afforestation of grassland and 75% of observations showed carbon losses, even after 100 years.

Honest appraisal

of the facts needed

Setting international studies aside and returning to the Edinburgh University soil carbon study in Northumberland on Sitka forests and its demonstrated 134 t/ha soil carbon losses, given ScotGov’s commitment to ‘net zero’ by 2045, the 50-60 years or so that this 134 tonnes soil carbon/ha is lost to the atmosphere (and the global warming feedback effects it will bring) needs to be carefully considered.

This is true also for several other global warming effects from forestry, such as the change in surface albedo (or surface reflectivity) that’s caused by the change in land cover from open ground to conifer forest.

Many studies have shown that while grassland reflects a percentage of the sun heat back out into space, proportionately dark conifer forests reflect less and absorb and retain far more of this energy – thus causing more global warming.

In a briefing note (Morison 2019, written by James Morison head of UK Forest Research and a ‘go to’ advisor to the UK’s Climate Change Committee) the albedo effect is described as a ‘substantial component of the net climate change effect of afforestation’ and the range of ’25-45%’ is offered as ‘the likely reduction in the cooling effect by the carbon stored in the trees by the warming effects of the albedo change caused by tree planting in the UK’.

Therefore, even taking this effect at its lowest, this global warming is the equivalent of releasing into the atmosphere 37.5 tonnes carbon/ha in a typical Sitka forest.

Adding these afforestation warming effects of soil carbon loss, forest nitrous oxide emissions and albedo change effects together comes to an equivalent warming effect of over a 180 tonnes of carbon/ha by the year 2062 for a forest planted today.

Set against 150 tonnes carbon/ha stored in the trees over the same time – though this carbon may also eventually be released back into the atmosphere after harvesting by burning these trees as biomass fuel – in a Europe which currently has hundreds of millions of m3 surpluses to our requirements, what else are we going to use it for?

Please note, all these figures come from either UK Forest Research/Forestry Commission, or from research conducted at their study sites and if this is correct, then clearly the planting of more forests in places like Galloway will in actual fact, impede, not help Scotland reach its 2045 net zero target.


Windblown trees – what score will they have in the carbon storage league table?

Windblown trees – what score will they have in the carbon storage league table?


Burning questions?

It may be hard to believe the figures could get any worse, but if trees from these forests are burnt as biomass – or displace trees elsewhere that are burnt as biomass – the energy debt to transport, dry and process this wood for use as a fuel is estimated by FAO and others to be around 25% of the total energy value.

So even if biomass fuel is used instead of fossil fuel in this process, this means for every 3ha burnt as biomass, an additional ha (with all its inherent 180-tonne carbon cost/debt) needs to be grown just to ‘fuel’ the whole process.

This means the potential effect isn’t 180 tonnes of carbon being released by 2061, but the equivalent of 240 tonnes of carbon released for every ha of biomass fuel delivered to the burner – which, when burnt, heaps another 130 tonnes or so of carbon/ha into the atmosphere), ie 370 tonnes of carbon from every ha of Sitka harvested in 2062.

If gas is used to dry and process timber into pellets instead of biomass for the same process, this will actually dramatically lower the global warming impacts of this supposed carbon neutral fuel – what a joke! Just for the hell of it, convert 370 tonnes carbon per ha loss into CO2 equivalents, just as ScotGov and forestry sector like to do to exaggerate the ‘benefits’ of trees and it equates releasing of 1356 tonnes CO2/ha.

This is what is actually happening, according to the UK forest sector’s own research! How could this joke – this ‘pretend’ carbon offset – ever help address climate change?

All this while a long-haul airline in Australia boasts it’s helping the environment by purchasing carbon credits in Scotland, while continuing to blast aviation fuel into the upper atmosphere. The reality is, its offset forest in Scotland is actually pumping another 1356 tonnes CO2 per ha into the air over its first 40-years!

If you’re still not getting the point, try multiplying this 1356 tonnes CO2/ha across the 470,000 ha of forest Scotland still needs to plant to get to 25% national forest cover?

We all need to wisen up about the realities

The people of rural Scotland need to ‘wisen up’ to the urban-based politicians of the Central Belt who, it seems in their ignorance of real facts, are fully prepared to sacrifice rural Scotland, just so they can be seen to be doing something ‘green’ as they try to make Scotland statistically ‘European average’.

This rubbish climate change mitigation strategy, built around tree planting, will see the destruction of farmland and upland bird habitats that’s already well underway. For example, 5000 breeding curlew pairs are already lost directly to forestry and many more to forest edge effects on surrounding farmland – that’s just from the Galloway and Border hills alone (RSPB).

This ‘strategy’ that will not only oversee rural depopulation and end of a farming tradition and occupancy of the land that stretches back thousands of years but will assist local extinction of birds such as curlews, plovers, skylarks and black grouse.

It will lose vital habitats, flora, fauna and people – and all to be replaced by foreign-owned carbon offset Sitka forest that won’t actually offset carbon or counter global warming but probably cause it.

Almost everyone I speak to seems to think the populist narrative around tree planting is wrong but that to go against ScotGov doctrines and try to turn-around its forestry bandwagon, is a nigh on impossible task.

However, if the carpet bombing of rural Scotland with Sitka by foreign-owned big business is to be halted or even slowed down, then the true facts must be heard.

Finally, if this ‘strategy’ is the best Scotland can come up with, then frankly we and our children, deserve absolutely everything climate change throws at us!