Pathway to a sustainable future is clear
Scotland’s need to ramp up tree planting -to undo more than a century of deforestation- is starting to be seen as a real opportunity by businesses across the UK. Tilhill Forestry senior forester, Calum Murray says that climate change concerns are already having a positive impact, in prompting both businesses and a range of investors to prioritise forestry as a great way of helping Scotland to achieve its zero-carbon target for 2045.
“We are seeing real interest, particularly from businesses who have already done a good deal to lower their carbon footprint and who now want to find meaningful ways of offsetting the rest of their carbon output,” he says.
Murray points out that things have moved on hugely from Scotland’s initial mass reforestation efforts in the mid-1960s to 1980s. Those efforts were driven almost solely with an eye to commercial returns and led to a general perception that these woods were dark, forbidding deserts as far as wildlife and flora were concerned.
For some years now new forest plantings by Tilhill Forestry and other forestry companies have focused on creating woodlands that encourage biodiversity as well as providing commercial returns that consistently outperform global stock markets.
“Today, there is a well understood need for the planting of new forests to create a balance between commercial requirements and the need to create forests that enhance the natural environment,” Murray comments.
One of the benefits of companies turning to forestry as a way of offsetting their residual carbon footprint, is that it makes money available for schemes that perhaps would not be commercially viable without additional financial support.
“There are some great government grants for tree planting, but we often find customers struggling with potential projects in marginal land that just fall short of being commercially viable. This is where the investment from carbon-offsetting schemes can lift the whole project, leading to the planting of many hectares of forests that otherwise would not happened,” he comments.
Tilhill and other established forestry companies act as brokers to connect companies with a requirement for carbon offsetting, with landlords who have schemes that could be viable, given additional sources of investment.
As Murray notes, commercial forestry does not just lock up carbon for the forty years or so that the trees are maturing. When the wood is turned into building timber, the carbon in the timber continues to be locked away for many decades thereafter.
“The whole forestry industry has learned the lessons from the mistakes of the past. I walk through commercial woodlands every day and they are alive with deer and a wide variety of birdlife, as well as a range of wild flowers.”
Many commercial forestry projects these days also include a variety of deciduous tree plantings in order to create a balance. When it comes to locking up carbon, Murray points out that it doesn’t matter whether the driving idea behind the creation of the forest is commercial, or a desire to restore some of Scotland’s indigenous woodland. Both take carbon out of the atmosphere. However, fast growing commercial woodlands comprised largely of Sitka Spruce will lock up more carbon faster than deciduous woodlands, which mature at a much slower rate.
“It is difficult to overstate the importance of commercial forestry to Scotland’s rural communities.
“It brings much needed jobs to rural areas at all phases in the life of a forest, from the initial planting, through the lifetime maintenance of the forest and in the harvesting,” he says.
Murray adds that as well as the wider societal and environmental values that woodland brings, through the positive impact it has on carbon sequestration, reforestation also improves an area’s water quality and helps with both flood mitigation and biodiversity.
“We are seeing a real uptick in investors who are attracted both by the idea that investing in forests helps to preserve the environment for their children and grandchildren, and by the recognition that returns from forestry tend not to be correlated with the ups and downs in the mainstream equities and bonds markets,” he says.
The combined appeal of a good return on their investment along with the idea that they are helping to combat climate change, is stoking investor interest in the sector. “Forestry particularly favours those seeking long term capital gains and increasingly it will favour ‘heritage investors’, those for whom ecological and climate change mitigation concerns rate as high or higher than concerns over the scale of monetary returns,” he notes.
One of the positive stories over the past year was that Scotland finally managed to achieve the Scottish Government’s planting targets. “The Scottish Government has set an annual planting target of 10,000 hectares of new forest. Last year we actually achieved in excess of 11,000 hectares of new plantings,” Murray says.
The government’s target is set to rise to 15,000 hectares a year by 2024. However, Murray points out that to meet the Scottish Government’s plans to go carbon neutral by 2045, we should already be planting 30,000 hectares a year across the UK. England, which is still doing very little new planting, needs to take a leaf out of Scotland’s book and get busy planting, he says.
Tilhill Forestry is currently running a project called “#PlantTreesAplentyIn2020. This is a campaign launched by Tilhill to encourage farmers, landowners and companies to plant trees on their unproductive land.
As Murray explains, as part of this campaign Tilhill can help landowners and farmers decide what trees to plant and where to plant them. Today’s new woodlands offer opportunities for wildlife, recreation and will play a part in mitigating climate change.
Planting a well-planned woodland on land that is marginal for agricultural use can help to provide shelter for cattle and sheep, as well as providing the farmer with a decent pension on retirement.
This article appeared in The Herald's Earth Overshoot Day series, under the topic of Nature and how we boost our ecosystems.
For more information on the #PlantTreesAplentyIn2020 please visit www.tilhill.com
To participate in The Herald's Earth Overshoot Day coverage on the 22nd August please contact Stephen McTaggart on 07788 367 461 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org