By Simon Hodgson

SCOTLAND risks being a green country that cannot supply timber for its own needs.

Timber supply globally is increasingly competitive and will only become more so. If Scotland wants to be self-sufficient in future, then the time to plant more commercial forestry is now.

To some people, that statement is unacceptable.

We all agree, mostly, about the need to plant more trees but often the argument boils down to: “native broadleaves” = good, “productive conifer” = bad. The fact is, we need both.

One-third (32 per cent) of the trees we plant each year are native broadleaves. However, there is a growing need to consider the value of – and the contribution made by – productive forestry.

Currently, the UK imports 80 per cent of its annual timber requirement. We are essentially "off shoring" and this is not sustainable long term.

Climate change is already affecting some of the big timber-producing countries: wildfires, tree diseases and pests exert additional worldwide pressures on supply.

Transport and energy costs will increase; emerging economies around the world will demand more timber and timber-producing countries may be required to export less, to meet stricter climate protocols.

Public forestry in UK first came into being to avert the crisis of a timber shortage during wartime. We now face a crisis of even greater proportions – a climate emergency – that similarly calls for planning and balance in how we manage our national forests, while also delivering much-needed timber supplies.

The UK can attempt to compete for diminishing supplies on the world market against growing economies, or do something to mitigate its exposure to these forces.

Opposition to Scotland’s commercial forestry is often based on superseded practices and views that are now 40 years out of date.

Forestry & Land Scotland (FLS) practise Sustainable Forest Management (SFM): our land is certified as being managed to world-class standards.

Scotland is well placed to mitigate the risk of timber supply shortages by stepping up its commercial forestry sector and increasing the one-fifth of its land area that’s currently forested.

However, forestry is a long-term proposition: most productive forestry has a lead time of approximately 40 years (for Sitka and some other conifer species). Scots pine can take 80 years to reach maturity. So we need to plant new forests now.

As part of our sustainable forest management, we routinely re-stock the land that we currently manage but to increase woodland cover, we need to acquire new land.

In planning the forests of the future, we are investigating a greater diversity of species that can adapt to global warming while also developing new techniques for growing, planting and harvesting trees.

To give our forests the best chance of success we combine our expertise with the latest research, to plant trees in places best able to support them.

It’s time to recognise that modern commercial forestry – which has sustainability, adaptation and conservation at its core – is of fundamental importance to the effort to reach net zero.

Simon Hodgson is CEO of Forestry & Land Scotland