Information and Advisory Note Number 138 Back to menu
1.1 In an unaltered state, woodland would cover much of Scotland, except the
Western and Northern Isles, mires where the ground is too waterlogged for tree
growth, and mountains and coastal margins where exposure imposes altitudinal and
1.2 Over millennia, woodland clearance and the suppression of regeneration by heavy grazing have greatly reduced Scotland's native tree cover.
1.3 in recent decades, plantation forestry has greatly increased the proportion of Scotland covered, by trees.
1.4 Although most native Scottish tree species are broadleaves (Scots pine and juniper being the only native conifers), commercial plantations are typically composed of a few species of rapidly growing, exotic conifers. Notable among these are Sitka spruce, lodgepole pine, Japanese larch and Norway spruce. Scots pine is also widely planted, but non-native varieties are often used.
1.5 Non-native broadleaves, such as beech (native to southern England) and sycamore (native to mainland Europe) have also been widely grown. Broadleaved planting was widespread in the lowland estates of the 18th and 19th centuries.
1.6 In the 1990s, most broadleaved planting was of native species, particularly in the Highlands. Beech and other exotic broadleaves continued to be planted in the lowlands.
1.7 Young commercial plantations, whether of conifers or broadleaves, tend to have low natural heritage value, due to the dense planting which prevents light reaching the forest floor and inhibits the development of a ground-layer.
1.8 However, many older plantations have developed a more interesting ground flora, particularly in glades or rides, and some support rare and endangered bird species, including goshawk, Scottish crossbill, crested tit and capercaillie. Clear-felled and early growth stages can provide habitats for nightjar and other species.
2.1 1924 to the 1980s
According to the first Forestry Commission survey, 5.6% of Scotland's land area was covered by trees.
Broadleaves covered 2.3% of the country (1,830 kmē), and conifers covered 3.2% (2,527 kmē).
Despite heavy felling during the Second World War, the Forestry Commission census of 1947 showed that woodland cover had increased to 6.8%.
By 1980, the total area of Scotland covered by trees had increased to 11.8%. This was due to the rapid expansion of plantations after the Second World War, particularly in the Uplands on moorland and peatlands. The area of conifers increased to cover 10.7% of Scotland (8,381 kmē).
Many broadleaved and native pinewood sites were replaced or underplanted by conifer plantation. Broadleaved cover had declined to 1.1% of the land area (829 kmē) (Figure 2).
2.1.4 By the late 1980s, interest in the natural heritage value of woodland had increased. The Forestry Commission's Broadleaves Policy of 1985 recognised that broadieaved woodland should be maintained and enhanced. The new Broadleaved Woodland Grant Scheme awarded higher rates of grant than were available for planting conifers.
2.1.5 Tax benefits, which had driven the growth of private sector conifer plantation in previous decades, were discontinued in 1988. In their place, a new Woodland Grant Scheme was introduced, with enhanced grants for planting broadleaves and native pine.
2.2 Trends from 1988 to 1997
Under the first Woodland Grant Scheme (WGS1), broadleaved planting increased gradually and the planting of exotic conifers dropped sharply.
A revised WGS (WGS2) introduced management grants, and a 'Better Land Supplement'. The latter encouraged planting on arable and improved agricultural land, and therefore increased planting in the lowlands. Broadleaved planting increased sharply and, in 1994, exceeded conifers for the first time.
Reduced funding for planting and managing small woods (WGS3) was reflected in a slight drop in broadleaved planting. Nevertheless, in 1997 the rate of broadleaved planting was almost double that of exotic conifers.
Changes in grants for natural regeneration led to a decrease in the area of woodland established in this way, and a proportional increase in planting of native woodland (Figure 3).
Between 1988 and 1997 the planting of broadleaves by Forest Enterprise (FE) remained relatively stable. However, conifer planting decreased. By 1997, broadleaves comprised 13% of new FE planting, compared with 6% in 1988.
Overall, 569 kmē of broadleaved woodland was planted through WGS funding and planting on FE land between 1987 and 1997.
By 1995, broadleaves covered 2,180 km2 (2.8% of Scotland), whilst conifers, including Scots pine, covered 10,641 km2 (13.6% of Scotland).
3.1 Trends from 1924 to 2000 were derived from the Forestry Commission's National Inventory of Woodland and Trees and previous censuses. Trends from 1988 to 2000 were derived from the Forestry Commission's WGS database and FE planting records.
Further detailed information on Natural Heritage Trends: Forest and Woodland can be found in Information & Advisory Note No. 137.
To obtain further information about any of the issues raised in this l&A Note,
Ms Jeanette Hall (Author) or Mr Ed Mackey
Environmental Audit Group
Chief Scientist's Unit
Scottish Natural Heritage
2 Anderson Place
EDINBURGH EH6 5NP
Tel; 0131-446 2457
Fax: 0131-446 2405
Back to menu