UK Prime Minster Boris Johnson identified his priorities for COP 26 as "coal, cars, cash and trees", recognising the importance of domestic and international commitments within these sectors in addressing climate change and assisting in the journey to net zero.

Trees, and in particular increased tree coverage, has been a priority of the Scottish Government over the past decade. In recent years approximately 80% of new tree planting in the UK has happened in Scotland. Through modernising legislation (the Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Act 2018) and public spending commitments the forestry industry and tree planting have been placed at the centre of Scotland's efforts to address climate change and to promote the myriad of economic, social and health benefits that can result from a strong forestry sector and public access to woodlands for recreational purposes.

As part of its green investment project portfolio Glasgow City Region is looking for investment in the Clyde Climate Forest (CCF). This is not a single forest area but rather a portfolio of woodland creation and expansion projects proposed for the whole region that comprises eight largely urbanised local authorities extending to 1,290 square miles. If successful this will result in 9,000 hectares of new woodlands over a 10 year period, and all within the Glasgow City Region. This would equate to a further 3% of the region's area being planted with 18 million trees.

The timescales and increased tree coverage is broadly in line with the Scottish Government targets for the whole of Scotland, which anticipate increasing tree coverage from 18.8% to 21% by 2032. Current annual planting targets in Scotland are 12,000 hectares, and will rise to 18,000 hectares from 2024/25. However, the particular ambition of Glasgow City is reflected by the desire to achieve this level of planting within a largely urban setting and by focussing on achieving this coverage through a range of species and scales of woodland/forestry. The national targets also rely on a wide range of schemes but large-scale conifer planting is key to meeting these targets and such schemes will almost exclusively happen in rural settings. The CCF is much more reliant on planting smaller pockets of land and will therefore require significantly more planting schemes than most (if not all) other regions in Scotland.

The success of the CCF will be dependent not only on sufficient funding being raised from investors but also on persuading a sufficient number of public and private landowners to plant their land or make it available for others to do so. It has been identified that the CCF project has a value of £107m and investment has been requested. Private landowners with suitable lands are being encouraged to consider the planting potential and their attention is drawn to the availability of Government grants and (for qualifying projects), the woodland carbon units which can then be sold to, and reported by, commercial entities as part of their measures to offset carbon production

The current forestry strategy places a significant importance on the benefits to health and society of increased tree planting and that is clearly a significant benefit of planting within urban settings, providing residents with greater access to green areas and opportunities to improve aesthetics and air quality. The right tree in the right place can also help communities and councils manage flood risk, and that is likely to be a key driver for some of the schemes.

It may take some more carrots and sticks to reach the tree target set. New tree planting could become more of a focus in planning permissions, even in smaller scale developments. Where space will allow, the Council may take advantage of the multiple landscape planting areas and recreation grounds currently on their Asset Register for new trees and may resort to their CPO powers where more land for planting is needed. And, maybe further down the line, those investing in tree planting now may reap the rewards if the valuation of urban properties is boosted by their green credentials on the outside as well as the inside.

The CCF is a bold and ambitious initiative which will hopefully benefit from the experience of the highly successful Scottish forestry sector and will be closely monitored by local authorities and stakeholders across the UK seeking inspiration and know how on how to role out similar initiatives elsewhere.


Graeme Leith