MORE than five million trees have been felled to make way for wind farms in the last six years, according to figures released by Forestry Commission Scotland.

Fewer than 1.6 million trees have been planted on these sites to replace those felled, prompting criticism that an environmental asset has been destroyed for the sake of renewable energy.

The Scottish Government has rejected the claim, pointing out that over the same period the commission has planted more than 60 million new trees, and that much of the areas around wind farms that were not replanted due to a decision to restore significant areas to open habitat for wildlife.

The infomration was released after a Freedom of Information request was made by the Scottish Conservatives.

They were told 2510 hectares (6202 acres) of forest had been cleared since 2007 for wind farms, with only 792 hectares replanted after the erection of turbines. Each hectare represents around 2000 trees.

The Scottish Conservatives have called for a year-long moratorium on wind farm planning applications and called these latest figures on tree felling in relation to such developments damning.

The party's energy spokesman Murdo Fraser MSP said: "The SNP is so blindly obsessed with renewable energy that it doesn't mind destroying another important environmental attribute to make way for it.

"It's quite astonishing to see almost as many trees have been destroyed as there are people in Scotland.

"I'm still waiting to see compelling evidence of the contribution wind farms make. They are an expensive, intermittent and unreliable alternative, and not one that it's worth making this sacrifice to accommodate.

"If the Scottish Government cooled its ludicrous renewable energy targets, we wouldn't see this kind of wanton destruction and intrusion on our landscape."

Environment and Climate Change Minister Paul Wheelhouse accused the Conservatives of "misrepresentation".

He said: "The claims made by Mr Fraser misrepresent the full picture.

"With careful planning of the development of wind farms on the National Forest Estate, we have re-planted nearly 800 hectares, and restored significant areas of important open habitat where this is best for the environment.

"The result is that of the area felled for wind farms, only 315 hectares of land suitable for another rotation of trees has not been re-planted."

Mr Wheelhouse said Scotland was shouldering the vast majority of tree planting in Britain with a rate more than double that south of the border.

A spokesman for Forestry Commission Scotland said the statistics related to areas of commercial forestry, rather than areas of historic woodland.

Mr Wheelhouse added: "It was the Scottish Government that took a proactive role in protecting Scotland's forests and woodlands. In 2009 we tightened up the guidance around felling for wind farm developments. A key component is to keep any felling to a minimum and compensatory planting undertaken where suitable.

"Every energy company building wind farms has to comply with this policy.

"All renewable developments are subject to environmental scrutiny through the planning process and this manages any impacts on the natural environment, landscape and communities."