Forests and Forestry

Forests and woodlands cover around 17 percent of Scotland’s total land area* and are of very significant cultural, environmental and economic value.

*Scotlands trees, woods and forests. Forestry Commission

Changes in climate will pose significant challenges for the forestry sector which recognises that measures must be taken to ensure that forests and woodlands will be resilient to future changes in climate.

Introducing management practices that strengthen the ability of existing tree species to cope with changes in climate will be critical. Decisions will also have to be made about how best to develop forests and woodlands in the future, perhaps including the introduction of alternative or additional tree species.

It is important to recognise that forest and woodland management is a long term process, with timber rotation periods of between 50 and 200 years, depending on species. Within these time periods the climate is projected to change significantly with impacts varying across Scotland.

Research, planning and ongoing re-evaluation will be required in order for the forest and forestry sector to overcome the challenges and maximise the opportunities presented by climate change.

Some of the key challenges and opportunities faced by the forest and forestry sector are outlined below: 

Key Impacts

  • As temperatures increase conditions are likely to become more favourable for existing pests and diseases; exotic pests and diseases may also become prevalent in areas that were previously inhospitable.
  • Tree species with exacting requirements are particularly vulnerable to changes in climate and the increased prevalence of pests and diseases.
  • Increases in the frequency and intensity of high impact weather events are projected; this is likely to result in increased occurrences of damage to forest and woodlands.
  • Native species may be lost as climate conditions become unsuitable for their growth, the introduction of alternative species may be required.
  • An increase in the number and severity of summer heat waves combined with increased forest productivity could result in the increased likelihood of forest fires.
  • With milder winters, some tree species may not enter full dormancy, leading to the possibility of damage during cold periods of winter;
  • Although warmer growing season temperatures will tend to increase the productivity of most tree species, this is only the case if soil moisture is a non-limiting factor. In some areas of eastern Scotland dryer summer conditions could result in drought stress.

Key Opportunities

  • Milder winter temperatures and an extended growing season, combined with increased levels of CO2, may result in increased productivity of forests and woodlands.  
  • A warmer climate may provide conditions in which trees are able to grow at higher elevations.
  • Forests and woodlands can play an important role in contributing to climate change adaptation, for example through providing natural flood risk management, reducing soil erosion, protecting water quality and providing a natural mechanism for urban climate control.

For more information on the impacts of climate change on the forestry sector see:

The Forest Research website contains a wealth of essential information on the impacts of climate change on Scotland’s forests and forestry sector. Take a look at their publications and reports – including ‘Impacts of Climate Change on forestry in Scotland – a synopsis of spatial modelling research’ for detailed information about how climate change is likely to impact Scotland’s forests and woodlands.  

Combating Climate Change - A Role For UK Forests provides a major review of climate change considerations for UK forests. Access the Main Report or take a look at the Adaptation section contained within the main report.

The Forestry Commission Scotland Climate Change Action plan provides a strategic overview of the Forestry Commission’s commitment to acting on climate change.

What’s happening?

The forest and forestry sector has been working for several years to better understand the impacts of climate change on the sector. Although a wealth of research is now available to help inform decision makers and practitioners the sector recognises that much more work is still required. The information below provides an overview of some of the key activities that are currently underway.

Scotland’s Climate Change Adaptation Framework Forests and Forestry Sector Action Plan

A Forests and Forestry sector action plan is included within Scotland’s Climate Change Adaptation Framework. The action plan provides an overview of the broad range of work planned over the coming years to strengthen resilience to the impacts of climate change.

Forest Research

Forest Research works to provide a strong evidence base for UK forestry practices. Climate Change forms a key research theme with specific work developed to better understand how climate change will affect forests and forestry in Scotland. All published research publications and reports can be accessed from their website.

Forestry Commission Scotland

Forestry Commission Scotland’s  Climate Change Action Plan was launched in February 2009 and outlines what the commission will do to increase the contribution and response of Scottish forestry to the challenges of climate change.

The action plan will be reviewed in 2011 ensuring that it remains up to date and takes account of the most up to date climate change research. 

 Adaptation actions

Whilst recognising that decisions on adaptation action must be made on a site by site basis research into the impacts of climate change has highlighted several general principles for building the resilience of forests and forestry to the impacts of climate change.

Much of the information below has been extracted from the report ‘Combating Climate Change A Role for UK Forests’ produced by the National Assessment of UK Forestry and Climate Change Steering Group 2009. Information was also obtained from various forest research publications.

  • It is generally agreed that networks of forests and woodlands should be encouraged in order to create opportunities for species migration and adaptation to change.
  • Continuous cover forestry approaches are increasingly being promoted encouraging the development of mixed age structured forests and woodlands that may be more resilient to longer term changes in climate.
  • It is recognised that continuous cover forestry approaches may make forests and woodlands less susceptible to extreme windthrow.
  • The creation of more varied woodlands and forests both in terms of species composition and structures should increase resilience to major disturbances because only a minority of the stands are ever at a susceptible stage at any one time.
  • It is likely to be necessary to increase the range of tree species planted in forests and woodlands, in some areas existing tree species will become less tolerant or even intolerant to climate conditions, in these circumstances more suitable species will need to be identified.
  • A general insistence on the use of native tree species may no longer be practical in some areas, alternative, non-native species will have to be considered.
  • Contingency plans need to be developed to provide an adequate response to increasing risks of catastrophic wind damage, fire, and pest or disease outbreaks.