The Scottish Government has now recognised that there is a Climate Emergency. One of the ways it says it will respond is by the mass planting of trees.
This intention is simplistic and speaks to an unhelpful attitude towards the natural world; namely that, when when we make a mess of things there is always a techno-fix to be applied at the industrial scale.
Of course, the act of planting trees is a powerful symbol, and necessary in totally denuded areas where there is no natural seed source. But the kind of planting advocated by the Government will be done by heavy machinery and will involve mainly Sitka spruce: a runaway success story for the forestry industry – so far.
Plantation forestry will still have a place in this new imperative to sequester carbon, but in balance. Suitable areas should be allowed naturally to regenerate into woodland. Yesterday I looked over the Skipness estate in North Kintyre with Rupert James, a passionate advocate of sustainable forestry.
He showed me an area which had been clear felled around ten years ago. It was now covered in gorse, and the gorse had acted as a nurse crop for birch (see title image). None of this birch had been planted: it grew of its own accord. People easily forget this.
Do we really want the kind of landscape seen below? Often such images are hidden, but when large-scale clear felling happens beside a busy road, people tell me it looks like a “war zone.”