Stuart Goodall, chief executive of forestry and wood trade body Confor, reacted after figures showed new planting in the year to March 31, 2023 fell sharply to 8,190ha from 10,480ha the previous year. This means Scotland is way off its target of creating 18,000ha of new woodland annually by the end of this parliamentary term in 2026.

Responding to the figures, cabinet secretary for rural affairs Mairi Gougeon announced a summit with industry leaders and land management bodies to develop a collaborative plan of action to address any blockages and challenges to ensure future targets are achieved.

Mr Goodall welcomed this initiative as well as the investment of £1m in much-needed skills training, which Confor has highlighted was needed, but urged the cabinet secretary to act swiftly.

“It’s truly worrying that planting rates have fallen sharply in Scotland when England and Wales have seen a year-on-year increase,” said Mr Goodall. “As an industry, we have warned for some time that the processes for assessing and approving planting applications are still not fit for purpose and the sense now across the sector is that the progress made since the Mackinnon report of 2016 has been lost.

“Collectively, we have to do much better, and industry stands ready to plant far more trees, to help Scotland on its path to net zero greenhouse gas emissions, and to create jobs and growth in fragile rural economies.

“Tree planting offers a hugely positive double-whammy of benefits to our environment and economy, and swift action is needed to ensure these benefits are not lost, and that the environment and economy does not suffer.”

Mr Goodall said the announcement of a tree planting summit earlier this week by Mairi Gougeon was welcome, as was her recognition that things had to change. Industry would play a full and open role in that process, he added.

“Businesses across Scotland are passionately committed to achieving the planting targets and realising the benefits that will come from that. Many have invested in their businesses to gear up for additional work that hasn’t then materialised.

“It is important that the cabinet secretary has recognised there is a problem and wants to identify a way to start tackling it. I hope the proposed summit will happen soon. In the meantime, given that we cannot afford to lose any further momentum and to avoid businesses reducing investment and employment, I’d urge the cabinet secretary to put on hold any changes that could further suppress tree planting efforts. During a climate emergency, all efforts need to be going into creating more well-designed woodland.”

New woodland creation figures have fallen year on year since Scotland published its 10-year Forestry Strategy in 2019.

Scotland is still planting far more new woodland than anywhere else in the UK, but the overall percentage planted is falling. Just two years ago, 80% of new woodland was being planted in Scotland – now it’s down to 63%.

“Scotland must get back on track – quickly – and start pushing up annual planting,” said Mr Goodall.