These are very exciting times for Scottish forestry.

The importance of our woodlands is becoming a priority for government as it aims for carbon neutrality. At the same time, as the world looks to a more sustainable future, the value of the forestry industry is finally being recognised by the public.

Within the UK, in many respects, Scotland is already leading the way, greatly exceeding its most recent targets for tree planting. According to the latest figures, 11,200 hectares of planting has been undertaken in Scotland in the past year, comfortably beating the current 10,000-hectare annual target. Last year, 7,100 hectares of new trees were planted.

The Scottish forestry industry is far outstripping the rest of the UK, with 84 per cent of all new planting taking place in Scotland. Forest coverage is between 18 and 19 per cent, compared with a UK average of 13 per cent  (10 per cent in England).

There are several reasons why Scottish forestry is doing so well.

The processes are simpler. The collaborative work between industry bodies like Confor and the Government, streamlining grant support and changing the mind-set of the regulatory system that approves forestry planting, and with downstream industries, have borne fruit. The new woodland creation application process, launched in Scotland in April 2018 following the Mackinnon review, was designed jointly with industry and consultees and aims to help speed things up even further.

The policy drivers are there, from climate change to housebuilding and timber security. In Scotland alone, around 9.5 million tonnes of CO2 each year are removed from the atmosphere by our forests, but we are constantly reminded by experts in the field that tree planting alone is not enough to reverse climate change. Our construction and manufacturing industries need to become more sustainable, making more use of timber to sequester carbon through housebuilding, furniture and other projects. At the same time, we have to dramatically increase the availability of local timber, reducing the amount we import to bring down emissions.

Read more: Lumberjacks invite audience for Scottish tree-felling expo this summer

There is a sense that, in Scotland, forestry is a priority for politicians, quite different to other parts of the UK, with a determination to see it grow and succeed.

Political cross-party support gives forestry in Scotland security beyond short electoral cycles, as does the amount being invested in timber markets by sawmills, power boards and energy producers.

And the current price you get for forestry and for timber is very good, making it an attractive proposition for investors.

A recent amendment of the Climate Change Act 2008 puts the UK on a path to become the first major nation to eradicate its net contribution to climate change by 2050.

It’s been said that Scotland’s exceptional potential for planting trees, carbon capture and storage will allow us the possibility of being carbon-neutral by 2045. But if we’re to reach those kind of goals we need a robust industry that’s up to the task of supporting, managing and harvesting those trees, ensuring a perpetual cycle of felling and replanting, with a continuous supply of timber to meet the urgent demands of the construction trade.

It’s not enough to simply plant trees. We have to plant the right species, in the right places and manage them carefully to get the best possible results for investors, the supply chain and the environment in general.


Read more: Scotland 'smashes' tree-planting targets as nation's landscape goes back to woods

This week, a new event will shine a spotlight on Scottish forestry in a way that has never been achieved before. Visitors from across the UK and Europe will flock to the forests of Elvanfoot, South Lanarkshire, to witness world-leading harvesting techniques and access a wealth of expertise on funding, planting and management.

The unique nature of this show, bringing together the world’s leading manufacturers to work side by side, cannot be overstated.  No other show in Europe provides visitors with the kind of spectacle Forestry Expo Scotland 2019 offers, with more than 20 of the most advanced machines on the market working at full power to clear 10,000 cubic metres of trees in two days.

Away from the harvesting site, more than 50 exhibitors will be offering products, services and advice covering every aspect of modern forestry, ensuring old hands and novices alike will find something to enhance their business or understanding of the sector.

This show is certain to ignite conversations and foment partnerships that will hasten the evolution of the forestry industry within Scotland and beyond. My hope is it will be the first event of many in the years ahead.

John McNee is managing editor of Forestry Journal and essential ARB.