Scottish National Heritage and reforesting the Highlands

wpid-20130528_134804.jpgRecently Scottish National Heritage (SNH) have revealed a strategy for managing climate change, and part of it involves increasing forestry cover from 17% to 25%. It’s an excellent idea, that has met with some opposition.

Britain is one of the least forested countries in Europe. Around 12-13% of the land is currently forested, down from 15% a thousand years ago. There is actually a good news story here as, within the last century, that figure was as low as 5%. Natural ancient woodland though is around 2.5%. But back in history that wildwood cover would have been 50% or more. Possibly nearer 70-80%.

Even when the Romans came here 2000 years ago they noted what a massive diversity of woodland was present in the British Isles.

In that context, raising the cover of native woodland to 25% is hardly extreme. It’s good for managing flooding, good for carbon capture, good for wildlife, good for the environment, and it’s a return to the natural state. So who could object to that?


One of the objectors is entirely predictable, it’s the Scottish Gamekeepers Association. For them it’s important to maintain ‘dramatic open views and vistas’, ‘wild’ moorland, and important habitat. There are points in there that are true, and maintaining wild moors does matter. But these open vistas are not natural for the large part, they are managed and maintained for the benefit of shooters. The SGA isn’t being altruistic here, they are concerned about their income.

More unusually, they are joined in this by Mountaineering Scotland. Apparently this is a shared concern. I find this very hard to believe. Good woodland doesn’t restrict access, and this can be tested in many parts of Scotland already. So why the objection?

We could speculate by examining respective boards and trustees. We could speculate given a history of issues between the two over land access. But the reality is it shouldn’t matter. It’s an attention grabbing objection, but SNH should stick to their guns.

They should, of course, ensure the habitat they reforest is the most suitable. But the benefits far outweigh any possible cost. There’d be no damage to tourism, and sited right no damage to wildlife.

Now we just need Natural England to show similar ambition. But with the government(s) determined to bulldoze 60 ancient woodlands for HS2 there’s sadly little chance. 

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I welcome thoughts, comments and questions, so please feel free to share anything at all. Thanks, David

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