12 Dec 2023

Woodland scheme approvals highest this century

Scottish Forestry has approved 13,111 ha worth of new woodland creation schemes so far this year, making it the highest number recorded this century.

The positive news demonstrates an immense effort by the agency’s staff and all those in the sector involved in handling applications. It also demonstrates a high demand for both large and small forestry projects in Scotland.

Out of the total, 6,748 ha are native species which is also the highest ever recorded and should ensure next year’s native woodland targets are met.

The new record figures have been revealed on the day leaders from 80 businesses and organisations in the forestry, land-use, community and environment sectors meet in Perthshire for a Woodland Creation Summit.

Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon is chairing the summit and says it aims to act as a catalyst to boosting woodland creation rates further in Scotland.

“Today’s summit is hugely important to help galvanise support and effort to increase our woodland creation levels. I am here at the summit to both listen, but also to ask what more everyone else can do.

“In order to go further in our woodland expansion efforts, we need to work collectively and ensure that we manage this expansion carefully, taking into account other rural interests. We must continue to involve communities and work hard to get the right trees in the right place.

“I’m very encouraged at the number of application approvals hitting a record this century – that’s a tremendous achievement. However, although the approvals are very encouraging, we need to acknowledge that we still have a way to go in meeting the actual targets. More work by everyone on this is needed.

“Now that all these woodland creation projects have been approved, the hope is that woodland owners will be able to get all these trees in the ground and we can collectively work together to meet our ambitious woodland creation goals.”

During the day long summit, industry leaders are looking closely to identify opportunities and barriers to creating woodlands in Scotland. These findings will, in turn, point towards developing further actions which could help boost tree planting or natural regeneration.

Commenting on the record approvals, Scottish Forestry’s Interim CEO, Paul Lowe, added:

“Our staff have really knocked it out of the park this year. Reaching a century record of 13,111 ha approvals already this year is brilliant work – they have worked so hard.

“We’ve expanded our workforce to meet the rising demand for woodland creation schemes. These new woodland officers need time to build up their working experience, and to help this, we are investing £1 million into a comprehensive skills training package to support them.

“I know there is more work to be done to improve the speed of woodland creation applications, but in time our actions will allow for a smoother and quicker application process for new schemes.”

Stuart Goodall, Chief Executive with Confor added:

“Confor welcomes the opportunity to work more closely with Scottish Government and Scottish Forestry to find solutions to enable the sector to consistently meet planting targets now and in the future, particularly of productive woodlands as they will deliver most to achieving Scotland’s net zero climate change target.

“There is now clear and unambiguous evidence that unless Scotland works together to meet our tree planting targets we can expect the impacts of climate change, demonstrated during Storm Arwen and most recently with flooding in Angus, to get much worse with even more devastating impacts. 

“The level of approved schemes indicate positive progress, but we still have a lot to do to achieve the government’s ultimate aim to achieve 18,000 hectares per annum by 2025.”

Since the annual new planting statistics were announced last June, a series of measures to support woodland creation have been announced.

This has included a 20% inflationary rise in grants for smaller schemes, improvements to encourage riparian and agroforestry planting, £1 million for rainforest conservation and a tripling of grant support for bracken control.

Natural regeneration has also received a major boost with the grant payments to encourage this being doubled across the whole of Scotland.  

Alastair Seaman, Woodland Trust Director for Scotland stated:

“This is an encouraging sign. More approvals will hopefully translate into more trees in the ground. And it’s urgently needed. If Scotland truly intends to meet its net zero commitments by 2045, we need to at least double our annual woodland creation levels.”

In addition, new refreshed guidance to improve community engagement and consultation has been published, along with a user friendly document for farmers and crofters on the benefits of planting trees.

Scotland has very ambitious woodland creation targets which are rising year on year. They are currently at 16,500 ha of new woodland for 23-24, then reaching 18,000 ha of new woodland by 2024/5.  

To achieve these targets it will need a collective effort from government, landowners, the forestry and environment sectors, communities, farmers and crofters.

Notes to news editors

  1. 6,748 ha are approvals for native trees where biodiversity was the main objective, but with some scope for timber production too. Out of the remaining 6,363 ha of non-native trees, 5400 ha are for areas where timber production was the main objective, with secondary benefits for biodiversity and people.  
  2. It is important to note that Scottish Forestry approvals for woodland creation schemes does not automatically mean that the same number of hectares will actually get planted. This part of the woodland creation chain relies on the applicants (landowners, farmers, crofters, forestry organisations) going ahead and getting trees in the ground. It is only when the trees are in the ground, and when the forestry grant is claimed, that it counts towards the annual new woodland targets. These annual targets are published every June.

  3. Scotland’s native woodland targets are set within the Bute House Agreement which states that a minimum of 4,000 ha of new native woodland is grown each year.

      4.  Total approvals for woodland creation schemes in the previous five years was as follows:

  • 10,036ha – 2019/20
  • 10,879ha  - 2019/20
  • 13,068ha – 2020/21
  • 12,377ha  - 2021/22
  • 10,479ha  - 2022/23.