FORESTRY and Land Scotland's (FLS) team at the Newton Tree Nursery, near Elgin, is back at work – sowing seeds to grow the trees of the future.

With national guidance in place to help the forestry sector emerge out of lockdown, the Newton team has been amongst the first FLS outdoor staff to resume work, benefitting from the introduction of new risk assessment processes, safe working practices and bespoke 'back to work' FLS training covering the COVID-19 context.

Now supplied with COVID-19 appropriate PPE and following new guidance, the team is sowing millions of seeds that will eventually become Scotland’s forests of the future.

Alan Duncan, head of plant and seed supply for FLS, said: “At the beginning of lockdown, all our operations stopped except the essential timber harvesting needed to support the manufacture of vital products – pallets, woodfuel and face masks – for the national effort in the face of the health crisis.

“The tree nursery closure gave us cause for concern because of the potential impact on supply of saplings in years to come – particularly with regards to Sitka spruce, the mainstay of Scotland’s £1 billion forestry sector.

“A lack of seedlings coming through the nursery for planting in forests would also have an impact on Scotland’s efforts to address the cimate emergency.”

In a normal year, the Newton Nursery team’s work ensures continuity of supply for restocking Scotland’s national forests and land, normally producing about 7 million seedlings annually: mostly Sitka Spruce (3 million) and Lodgepole pine (2.2 million), along with Scots pine (1.5 Million) and Norway spruce (300k).

The COVID-19 restrictions meant that FLS faced the prospect of having no Sitka seedlings produced this year, which would have a disastrous knock-on effect in the planting season in two to three years.

Alan added: “Thanks to forestry being one of the first sectors to get back to work and the prompt publishing of the Forestry Sector Resilience Plan as well as the remarkable efforts of our own COVID-19 response team we’re getting back to work, big time.

“The Newton team is working flat-out, seven days a week to make up for lost time. Thanks to this effort, combined with other steps that we’ve taken to recover, I’m confident that we will make good on a substantial chunk of our nursery seed growing programme, which support tree planting jobs around Scotland.”

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