Scotland's taxpayer-funded nature agency has agreed a £2billion private finance deal to restore native woodland and capture 28 million tonnes of greenhouse gases over the next 30 years.

Nature Scot said the first-of-its-kind agreement with UK private bank Hampden & Co, Lombard Odier Investment Managers and global impact firm Palladium would establish the country as a world leader in nature restoration through “natural capital investment”.

It said the Scottish Government has significantly increased investment but “a huge increase in private funding” was needed to tackle the “twin crisis of nature and the climate”.

Nature Scot said the money could be in the form of loans to private landlords, NGOs and public bodies for projects but other investment models such as equity investment are also on the table.

Scotland is truly becoming a playground for the rich

It said the plan would create new jobs and support rural communities across all parts of Scotland.

However, the pilot scheme has been heavily criticised by the think tank Common Weal, which said it amounted to “privatising Scotland’s trees”.

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A spokeswoman said: “Selling carbon credits but it’s not greenwashing? Will the Scottish Government never learn? 

“Less than two years after Audit Scotland made a blistering assessment of how much harm had been done by the privatisation of Scotland’s public buildings and the revelations on how much has been lost after the cack-handed privatisation of Scotland’s off-shore wind, now they’re going to privatise Scotland’s trees? 

“Scotland is truly becoming a playground for the rich where the government creates more and more schemes to help them use their wealth to make even more money off the back of Scotland’s national assets. 


“Citizens really must scratch their heads and wonder where they fit into this oligarchy.”

The Scottish Conservatives said the plan was welcome news for the environment, local jobs and rural communities but questioned the “significant change of direction” by Biodiversity Minister Lorna Slater and the SNP-Green coalition.

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Liam Kerr, Scottish Conservative Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport, said: “Until now, she and her colleagues have shown no sign of realising that there are any positive aspects to business and private investment.

“Notably, her party isn’t just hostile towards private companies – it’s actually explicitly opposed to growth. 

“Lorna Slater should explain why she’s suddenly in favour of such economic arrangements and in what other areas we can expect to see them in future.

“If they’ve finally realised that it’s economic growth that will make this woodland growth possible, it will be the first sensible decision the Greens have made in years.”

Dr Line Kikkenborg Christensen, Executive Director of Jubilee Scotland, which campaigns to end 'unjust debts' said: "We want to see detailed plans that outline exactly what the private investors are getting out of this partnership - with full transparency to the Scottish public."

NatureScot said the investment will go straight to the projects and said it was not currently speaking to the investors about the land it owns “but may do so in future”.

The first pilot scheme will begin in the Spring and is centred on the upper catchment of the River Tweed in Southern Scotland.

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It will build on momentum already generated by the Wild Heart Borders Forest Trust project. 

The initial scoping assessment has identified the potential for around 30,000 hectares of new native woodland in the heart of Southern Scotland with the potential for between £200 and £300 million of private investment and around 6 million tonnes of carbon sequestration.  

The next phase of work will involve developing the funding model further and engaging with land managers and communities to explore what might be possible.

Biodiversity Minister Lorna Slater said: “The finance gap for nature in Scotland for the next decade has been estimated to be £20 billion. 

“Leveraging responsible private investment, through valuable partnerships like this, will be absolutely vital to meeting our climate targets and restoring our natural environment. 

“Scotland is well placed to take a leading role by offering investors the opportunity to generate sustainable returns from the restoration and regeneration of our landscapes. 

“This investment will generate multiple benefits: ending the loss of biodiversity, improving water quality, reducing the risk of flooding, regenerating local communities and creating green jobs.”

Robbie Kernahan, Director for Green Economy at NatureScot, added: “We’re delighted to be working with these businesses to deliver scalable investment in our natural capital in Scotland. 

“To deliver the aims of the Climate Change Plan we need to bring private investment to Scotland and this new partnership will allow us to test a new approach.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government has already significantly increased public investment in nature restoration through, for example, our £65 million Nature Restoration Fund.

“But public investment can’t do it alone - the finance gap for nature in Scotland for the next decade has been estimated to be £20 billion. That’s why we are working to find ways to bridge this finance gap through leveraging responsible private finance. 

“Our Interim Principles for Responsible Investment in Natural Capital, published last year, will help to ensure that investment is ethical and values-led, socially responsible, meets high standards of integrity, and includes benefits for local communities. That means a focus on nature-based solutions, like peatland restoration and woodland creation, in places and ways which bring benefits for the environment, the economy and society as a whole.”