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Forest resilience

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Forests for tomorrow

The changing climate is creating new threats to nature in Scotland, and forests are no exception. Warmer temperatures and more intense weather can pose risks to trees. These conditions, along with globalisation, can also allow pests and diseases to spread to new areas they previously couldn’t survive in. Together, these threats mean we are taking action to ensure Scotland’s forests are as robust as can be, ready for an uncertain future. 

Threats? What threats? 

Looking at a fully grown tree, it can be difficult to imagine how it could be in danger. But like much of nature, small changes can have big effects. We’ve seen weather changing over the last 30 years, with warmer temperatures and more extreme conditions. Storms and high winds have always posed a threat to trees. And now heavier rains and flooding, alongside hotter summers causing drought and wildfires, mean forests are vulnerable as never before.  

Rising temperatures and globalisation have also helped pests and diseases to thrive in new areas. We’ve seen this most clearly with Phytopthroa Ramorum in larch trees. We can’t cure this disease, only slow the spread by felling infected trees. This has meant huge swathes of forest have been felled. While these areas will be re-established with new trees, it’s far from ideal. Ash Dieback is affecting ash trees across Scotland and the UK, various beetles are causing damage to spruce which are the cornerstone species of the UK’s timber industry, and fungal disease is damaging pines. 

Tree diseases and pests 

Beyond the trees themselves, there’s the damage these events can cause. Falling trees can cause a danger to people, animals and infrastructure. Dying trees mean ecosystems could struggle to support the wildlife that live there. On un-forested land, heavy rains can displace vital soils, quickly causing erosion and flooding downstream. The threats facing Scotland’s forests and land could cause significant problems if left un-managed. 

Becoming resilient 

So how do we make our trees and forests robust? 

We are looking at many factors, and planning for some of the main issues such as; warmer, hotter summers; warmer, wetter winters, and pests and diseases. 

  • Mixed species: By diversifying forest structures and planting mixed species, it is harder for pests and diseases to spread. Typically these threats are only a danger to a specific type of tree, so planting more diverse forests can give us more time to help stamp out dangerous pests and diseases.
  • Keep it Clean: We urge all forest users to keep their kit clean. Whether walking boots or a mountain bike, regular cleaning makes it less likely that pests and diseases can spread. Our Keep it Clean advice has all the details for best practice.
  • Strategic planting: By planting trees on steep slopes, we can help stabilise the ground and prevent landslips and flooding. Typically these schemes are best suited to permanent native broadleaf woodlands. This means we can create more long lasting environments for nature too. Have a look at our works and plans at the A83 Rest and Be Thankful.
  • Strategic felling: Conversely, we keep an eye on vulnerable trees. Whether they are situated near crucial infrastructure like power lines, or next to busy roads, we can monitor them and take action when necessary. Recovering trees that have blown over or caused damage to infrastructure is difficult. By pre-emptively felling very specific trees, we can prevent broader damage. See more of this at our sites by the A82.

We are working with many organisations throughout Scotland and the UK to implement the best possible practices for our forestry. As we learn more through experience and research we will continue to adapt how we manage Scotland’s forests to ensure they thrive in the future.

How resilient forests can help

Explore the green drop-down boxes below to learn more about each of these risks.

Warmer hotter summers 

Potential risks: drought, wildfires, higher water temperatures. 

How more resilient forests can help:
  • look at what tree species will grow better in warmer, drier climates
  • thin the trees and vary the stand structure to spread the risk
  • planning buffers to reduce the spread of wildfire
  • plant broadleaf trees along watercourses to help protect the water from getting too warm and build up the ecosystem. 

Warmer wetter winters 

Potential risks: wetter soils, increased flood risk. 

How more resilient forests can help: 
  • plant more conifers and trees upstream from flood zones to slow the flow and reduce peak flow
  • establish permanent trees along steep slopes to help bind soil and protect against landslips
  • look at planting trees species that grow better in wetter soils, especially in high-risk areas
  • plan forests to bounce back from the increased frequency of storms  

Pests and diseases 

Over the recent decades, globalisation has increased the spread of pests and disease, but the warmer and damper climate now further helps their spread  

Potential risks: risk of more trees dying or being infected, adverse effect on biodiversity. 

How more resilient forests can help: 
  • monitor our forests for early signs of pests and disease so we can be proactive
  • try and reduce the spread by felling infected trees, or, where safe, potentially leave infected ash trees to help biodiversity
  • promote 'keep it clean', work with communities to urge forest users to be aware of the best practice for protecting forests from pests and diseases

Our climate actions

We're working across Scotland and throughout our organisation to mitigate the effects of the Climate Emergency