SCOTLAND has "smashed" its tree planting targets in a key plank of its battle with climate change.

Fully 11,200 hectares of new forest was planted in 2018-2019, beating the current 10,000 ha annual target.

Scotland had been struggling with its targets, missing them last year. Crucially, new broadleaves accounted for 40 per cent of all planting in the year as foresters moved away from fast-growing foreign fir trees.

Trees absorb carbon and are considered vital to mitigating global warming caused by teh element in the atmosphere.

READ MORE: Scotland's industrial wastelands to be turned into forests

Welcoming the figures, Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing said: “This is fantastic news that we’ve smashed the targets. It is testament to the Scottish Government making forestry a priority and investing and helping growing the industry.

“The whole tree planting effort has truly been a national endeavour with all forestry interests, both large and small, pulling together.

“With an increase in tree planting in the pipeline, it is now more important than ever to make sure the right trees are planted in the right places.

“A new approach to woodland creation proposals was introduced last year and whilst this has helped us deliver the target, it also ensures that communities and interest groups are consulted along the way.

“But there is also a huge environmental significance to the increase in tree planting. We are now facing a global environment emergency.

“In Scotland alone, around 9.5 million tonnes of CO2 each year are removed from the atmosphere by our forests – this is a clear example of why an increase in tree planting is so important in the fight against climate change.”

READ MORE: Why the dear green place wants to be even greener and the rest of Scotland too

The Scottish Government itself planted 1,000 ha of the trees. It said a mixture of an improved and streamlined applications process, more promotion and better grant packages had helped boost tree planting across Scotland. 

However, ministers want to go even further.

HeraldScotland:

Planting broadleaves

The Scottish Government, as part of their climate change commitments, has already upped the planting targets for the future, rising to 15,000 ha a year from 2024/25.

Scotland’s forests cover 18.7% of the total land mass area and the ambition contained in Scottish Government’s forestry strategy is to increase this to 21 % by 2032. The figure was just 5% at the beginning of the 20th century.

Stuart Goodall, Chief Executive of Confor, which represents the forestry and wood processing sector, said: "I’m really pleased we’ve hit our planting targets in Scotland.

"This is great news for the sector, but also for all Scotland now that the First Minister has announced a climate emergency.

"Planting trees locks up carbon and by harvesting and replanting them sustainably, we can produce an infinitely renewable supply of wood with which to build homes and to manufacture an array of everyday products - while also reducing carbon in the atmosphere.

"Scotland is leading the way in the UK, with 84 per cent of all new planting happening in Scotland. Confor has worked long and hard with the Scottish Government to get to this point and I truly hope the momentum will be maintained in the coming years. We now need the rest of the UK to move beyond ramped-up rhetoric on a climate emergency and begin to take the positive action that we see in Scotland."

Dr Sam Gardner, deputy director at WWF Scotland added: “Woodlands will play an increasingly important role in capturing carbon and reducing Scotland’s contribution to climate change. These statistics show that Scotland can not only meet its own targets, while also making a significant contribution to the UK’s response to the climate emergency.

“We need to ramp up these efforts to meet the scale of the challenge but do so in a sustainable and integrated way, capturing carbon and delivering nature rich productive woodlands.”

Carol Evans, Director of Woodland Trust Scotland said: “The urgency for action on climate change is starting to hit home. At the same time the role trees can play in soaking up carbon is also becoming more generally recognised.

“Scotland has been ahead of the curve on this compared to the rest of the UK and we are absolutely delighted that the planting targets have finally been met. We need to keep this momentum going. We need to both expand the area of Scotland’s woods and significantly improve the condition of the forest habitats we already have. Suitably managed native woods can be the nation’s green lungs. Native trees are often planted for longevity and therefore lock up carbon for longer.”

Jon Lambert, director of John Clegg & Co, said: ‘’The recent news that Scotland has planted 11,200 hectares of new forestry in the last 12 months against a target of 10,000 is really exciting and an excellent effort by the industry, landowners and politicians alike. The UK currently imports some 70% of our timber requirements, and if we can sustain this rate of new annual planting it will go a long way to reduce this deficit. ‘’