A conservation charity has launched a campaign calling for at least half of all new woodland planted in Scotland to be native species, as part of the fightback against climate change.

Woodland Trust Scotland is calling for the Scottish Government to raise the proportion of native trees to at least 50 per cent of overall planting targets.

Existing native woodland covers only 4 per cent of Scotland’s land area and is highly fragmented.

Over the past century commercial foresters have tended to plant non-native trees such as Sitka spruce and, currently, only 40 per cent of new planting in Scotland is with native trees.

The trust said that figure should be increased to at least 50 per cent with native trees providing commercial crops while giving maximum support to biodiversity and locking up carbon.

As part of the campaign, a petition to the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham, calls for the ambitious 50 per cent native woodland creation target to be included in the Climate Change Plan update, which will soon be in its final stages of scrutiny by the Scottish Parliament.

Native Scottish tree species include Scots pine, birch, alder, willow, oak, rowan, hazel, wild cherry, aspen, holly, juniper, elder and hawthorn.

Arina Russell, Woodland Trust Scotland’s public affairs manager, said: “A young wood with mixed native species can lock up more than 400 tonnes of carbon per hectare in its trees, roots and soil.

“The Just Transition Commission’s advice on green recovery calls for diversified tree planting because native trees are more effective in capturing carbon.

“Currently around 40 per cent of new planting in Scotland is with native trees.

“We would like to see this increased to at least 50 per cent because native trees are more effective at capturing carbon when planted at scale and over a long period.”

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Woodland Trust has pledged to plant 50 million trees across the UK by 2025 to help tackle climate change.

And Woodland Trust Scotland is seeking to work directly with more land managers to increase native woodland cover and has put out an appeal for them to get in touch.

James McDougall, the charity’s senior outreach manager, said: “Land managers, farmers, crofters, fisheries boards – please talk to us about trees.

“Our advice is free, and we can guide you through the Government grant process and in some cases offer financial support ourselves.

“Our highly-qualified advisers can help you through the entire process, from plan to planting.”

This month, Woodland Trust will distribute 628,005 native trees to 3092 schools and community groups across the UK.

“Some 67,830 trees will go to Scotland, where 281 schools and groups across the country will benefit.”

The Woodland Trust also revealed that the coronavirus pandemic has impacted tree planting, with a 30 per cent decrease in the first quarter of 2020 compared to 2019.

To combat this, it is calling for the public to join it in its fight to tackle climate change by planting trees this autumn.

The pandemic has, of course, impacted the country in so many ways, including tree planting, which was down 30 per cent in the first quarter of 2020 compared to 2019.

The trust is calling on millions of people to plant trees throughout November to support the biggest mass-planting campaign ever seen in the UK.

Woodland Trust chief executive Darren Moorcroft said: “A year on from many big promises and statements about the need for more trees in order to achieve carbon net zero by 2050, they mainly remain just that – words.

“Our role in tackling the climate crisis won’t rest. We know the clock is ticking and we must act now.

“Trees are nature’s most powerful weapons in the fight against climate change.

“Together we can achieve remarkable things and I ask people today, please do your bit, join our climate change army, plant a tree in November, use your voice for trees and woods, support our cause and help us to continue our collective Big Climate Fightback.”

However, the trust is also inviting those unable to plant trees to participate by lobbying their local politicians on green issues, donating money to the campaign, and sharing support for the initiative on social media to spread the message.

The Woodland Trust initiative comes ahead of the COP26 summit which is due to take place in Glasgow next year, having been delayed by a year due to the pandemic.

Ms Cunningham has already said the run-up to the summit is a “critical time” for tackling the climate crisis.

This story first appeared in The Herald.

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