ECOLOGIST James H C Fenton
CONSULTATION ON SCOTTISH FORESTRY STRATEGY This is an important Scottish Government document out for consultation until 29 November. If implemented it will permanently change the face of the Scottish landscape, in the uplands changing it from a largely wild landscape to a largely designed landscape. Is this what we want? I personally think there should be a moratorium on all new forestry/woodland creation in the uplands while we sit back and take stock. The first half of my personal response to the consultation is given below. 1. Do you agree with our long-term vision for forestry in Scotland? No 1. Scotland is NOT part of the northern boreal zone as stated: it is in the oceanic Atlantic zone. Hence our forests are ecologically different from boreal forests. 2. "Ever since the first foresters entered Scotland's ancient wildwood over 6,000 years ago, our trees and woodlands have been felled and harvested." Where is the evidence for this? Most modern research indicates natural woodland decline from a postglacial maximum – as would be expected in this, the oligocratic phase of an interglacial. Woodland loss directly attributable to humans has probably been relatively small scale. 3. Hence although the "chronic lack of trees" is a "strategic problem for the country" from a timber industry perspective (although it might make more economic sense to import timber from boreal forest zones), in this vision it is conflated with a perceived 'biodiversity problem'. If the open landscape of our hills is largely natural, then there is no biodiversity case for bringing trees back: such intervention will only reduce the naturalness and lower the existing biodiversity value. 4. The fact that Scotland has a lower than average woodland cover compared to the rest of Europe is certainly relevant in creating a timber industry, but provides no justification for expanding woodland cover for the benefit of biodiversity. The 'lower than average' woodland cover is in fact a key biodiversity feature which distinguishes Scotland from Europe and ought to be retained. 5. It should be realised that there is an irreconcilable conflict between maintaining/expanding a forestry industry and the conservation of Scotland's biodiversity and natural landscapes. 6. The statement that 'forests and woodlands help mitigate climate change by absorbing carbon' needs much greater scientific scrutiny: tree planting on organic rich soils (as found in most of the uplands) can release more carbon through soil oxidation than is stored by the trees; can prevent shallow organic soils from going on to develop into peat bogs (which would store more carbon in the long run); and, importantly, by significantly reducing the albedo of the landscape, can contribute to a WARMING of the landscape. Additionally, the soil disturbance associated with modern mechanical harvesting can also liberate the stored soil carbon. 7. Creating new forests on open ground, much of which is recognised as being of international importance under the EU Habitats Directive, in fact, by reducing the naturalness of the landscape, contributes to global habitat loss – and so can be seen as being detrimental to biodiversity conservation. Certainly if trees are planted on moorland, the diversity of species can increase with both woodland and open ground species now being present; but biodiversity conservation is ultimately about maintaining the natural habitats of the region, not adding species willy-nilly. 8. Evidence suggests a natural woodland decline over the past few millennia and reversing such a trend is more about zoo-keeping than nature conservation (sensu allowing natural processes to proceed at the landscape scale). The natural woodland cover of 4-5% cannot really be seen as 'a key part of Scotland's iconic landscapes', but more as adding local landscape interest in a few places. From a conservation perspective, the management of the whole upland landscape should not be predicated on the needs of a habitat types which naturally would play only a minor and declining role. 9. Some of the other benefits of forests are questionable: "purify the air and water" – conifers extract acidic aerosols, causing water acidification; forests will not reduce flood risks from extreme rainfall/snowfall events when most damage is done; landslides on Scottish hill slopes occur on both forested and unforested ones – is there any evidence trees will prevent them? 10. Forests in lowland and urban settings can improve the landscape setting and provide places for recreation. However commercial hill forests are the same across the country, and modern industrial-scale forest access tracks are not very inspiring places to walk along! Modern upland forests are currently in the extraction phase, and the resultant landscape can, for a few years, take on the appearance of a post-apocalyptic wasteland!
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