SCOTLAND is entering a “new era” in which thousands of hectares of land will be transformed into forest every year, ministers have pledged.

Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing insisted he wanted to see more trees and woodlands covering the country, with Scotland already responsible for nearly 80 per cent of new trees planted in the UK.

It comes after The Herald revealed plans to turn post-industrial derelict sites into urban forests in a bid to find a long-term fix for vacant land in towns and cities.

Announcing the launch of Scotland’s Forest Strategy, Mr Ewing reiterated plans to plant 15,000 hectares of wood a year from 2024/25.

He said: “We can be rightly proud in Scotland of our track record on planting and maintaining trees and forests.

“Already, Scotland is responsible for nearly 80 per cent of new trees planted in the UK and forestry is a £1billion industry supporting 25,000 jobs all across Scotland.

“Our woodlands soak up 12 million tonnes of CO2 each year and at the same time, thousands of visitors enjoy health and social benefits from these fantastic natural assets, with over 200 community groups now involved in working with local woodlands.

“I am determined that we build on this success. Tree planting and woodland creation and maintenance must become a shared national endeavour.

“The strategy sets out key objectives for the next ten years and will serve as a framework for everyone who wants to develop Scotland’s modern, dynamic forestry sector.

“The strategy is being launched as we mark 100 years of public forestry in Scotland, celebrate the benefits achieved for habitats, wildlife, communities, people and businesses during that time.”

The proposals aim to create more forests and woodlands across Scotland by 2070. By 2032, ministers want to see 21% of the country covered in trees.

Some 18% of Scotland is currently wood or forest – higher than the rest of the UK but well below the EU average of 43%. Trees cover 31% of France, for example – and 75% of Finland.

Mr Ewing said a national group will be established to advise on implementation, alongside two new forestry agencies – Scottish Forestry and Forestry & Land Scotland.

The Herald previously revealed Glasgow and other towns and cities are looking to plant trees in a bid to fill swathes of derelict land.

Councils bosses see this as a cheap way to improve air quality, boost health and even prevent flooding.

The Scottish Government’s strategy notes urban forests also help to “economically regenerate degraded urban landscapes, including vacant, derelict and contaminated sites”.

Carol Evans, director of Woodland Trust Scotland, said: “Woods and trees are at the heart of what makes Scotland’s landscape and environment truly special.

“This new strategy should help all of us better manage and maintain our existing woodland. It should also ensure that we are planting enough native trees in the right places to look after the wildlife that depends on them, and to meet our national biodiversity targets.”

She added: “The new implementation framework should make it clear exactly how to make the strategy’s vision a reality, and the new national stakeholder group will definitely provide invaluable support for everyone working to deliver the strategy’s outcomes.

“Throughout the process we were struck that this was a genuine, open and honest consultation and the Scottish Government listened and engaged with the feedback they received.”