By Alex Foulkes

Scotland has world-leading plans to become carbon neutral that will be vital in our collective fight against climate change.

But in the post COVID-19 landscape, there is another reason why this approach is so vital: the nation’s economic recovery.

As we seek to rebuild from the coronavirus pandemic and a deep recession, the recovery must a green one.

By delivering large scale land redevelopment and rewilding in Scotland, we will not only make dramatic progress towards climate change targets, we will create thousands of new nature-based jobs in the process.

Earlier this year, at Kaitiaki Consulting we launched a ‘Billion Trees Scotland’ campaign, with the aim to support the planting of 1billion new trees by 2045.

Those trees will need people to plant them – creating work at a time when rural communities are struggling; generating re-training opportunities for those who have lost their jobs; and delivering outdoor employment opportunities that will help with both mental and physical wellbeing.

We have made our own small contribution already, hiring 20 new consultants as we bring in a team of specialists in ecological restoration, forestry, ornithology, botany, soil science and a raft of other key sciences.

Our task in the weeks and months ahead is to match environmental need – such as carbon reduction and offsetting – with funding partners, and then find and develop habitats to plant trees and enhance biodiversity as part of a sustainable cycle.

But a successful green recovery will require a team effort - from government at all levels as well as private businesses, communities and philanthropists.

Achieving Scotland’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2040 and net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045, will be no easy task, and the eyes of the world will be on us in the run-up to COP26.

It’s encouraging that all major political parties in Scotland support an increase in largescale tree planting.

This is one of the most effective and cheapest ways of taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

But while a total of 10,860 hectares of new woodland was planted in Scotland last year, that was down from 11,210 hectares in 2018/19. This year’s figure could be lower again as a result of the pandemic.

We should be redoubling efforts and looking at best international practice, and I hope this is reflected in next year’s Holyrood manifestos.

In New Zealand, the country is on course to plant 1billion trees by 2028.

This will help it to achieve its obligations under the Paris Agreement to reduce carbon emissions and reach carbon zero by 2050.

There is no reason why Scotland cannot have a similar ambitious target.

This was also the conclusion in a recent report from the Just Transition Commission (JTC), which urged the Scottish Government to ‘not lose sight of the pressing need to tackle climate change’ and recommended more tree planting.

But it’s not as simple as just planting trees randomly.

The focus must be on making it easier to plant the right trees, in the right place, integrating them into the landscape to complement and diversify existing land uses.

We have one of the lowest levels of forest cover left in Europe — only 18 per cent compared to an average of 44 per cent across Europe. Much of this is plantation forest — particularly the hated Sitka Spruce which has low biodiversity value and sequesters only a fraction of carbon compared to native forests.

It’s time to make some decisions about our shared future.

Much of Scotland’s land area is currently used for grouse shooting, with open moorland often burnt, heavily grazed by sheep and deer, and subject to significant timber harvesting.

Is this really the best use for our land, or should it be transformed into more wooded landscape to help tackle the climate emergency and increase biodiversity?

Shouldn’t we be looking to New Zealand, where over 35 per cent of the land mass — about 8 million hectares or roughly the size of Scotland — is protected as Public Conservation Land?

This has helped species that are teetering on the brink of extinction, with Kiwi populations now expanding after years of decline.

Yet here in Scotland, nearly half of species have declined since 1994, with only 28 per cent increasing.

In New Zealand a Kaitiaki is a Māori term for a guardian of the environment – which is what we should all aspire to be.

We will play our role by bringing in landowners, policy makers, conservationists, businesses, councils and investors together to develop the right ecological restoration projects.

In recent days, we have released 20 per cent of our share capital in a £100,000 share release designed to attract large investors.

There are many out there who not only recognise the unparalleled opportunities for financial gain from investing in our environment, but want to help tackle climate change here in Scotland as well.

There is no greater threat to our world than climate change, and it is everyone’s responsibility to get involved and make sure others do too.

Failure to act now will condemn the futures of many millions of people and will become a stark and damning legacy for generations to come.

Alex Foulkes is the managing director of Kaitiaki Consulting