I thank Angus MacDonald for bringing his motion to the chamber for debate. I share his enthusiasm for the designation of a national tree for Scotland. I am most grateful to members for their valuable speeches during the debate, and it is only right to acknowledge the contribution that Mr Hamilton made by lodging the petition with the Parliament and getting us to this point, as members said.
It is a shame that Joan McAlpine has had to leave, but I also thank her for leading a previous members’ business debate on the subject, which helped to influence the debate. Her motion invited us to recognise
“the significance of the Year of Natural Scotland”
and to create a legacy that would include
“the declaration of an official national tree after due public consultation”.
In closing that debate, I raised three questions:
“First, what is a national tree for? Secondly, what does it mean if we decide to adopt a national tree? Thirdly, what process should we go through ... if we were to choose and adopt a national tree?”—[Official Report, 22 May 2013; c 20206.]
I will address the last question first.
Members may recall that, at the time, a number of online votes were being run by, among others, the Woodland Trust Scotland and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh to identify Scotland’s favourite trees, flora and fauna. As they were votes rather than formal consultations that were endorsed by Government, I asked the Forestry Commission Scotland to set up a formal consultation. It asked two fundamental questions:
“Should there be a national tree for Scotland?”
and, if so:
“what species would you like and why?”
After a three-month consultation that started on 3 October 2013 and concluded on 3 December 2013, we received, as Joan McAlpine said, more than 4,500 responses. In response to the first question, there was an overwhelming yes, with 95 per cent of everyone who was asked supporting the concept.
Following that endorsement, the people’s choice was the Scots pine—more than 52 per cent chose that majestic tree as a clear winner. For the record and for Sandra Stevenson’s benefit, I say that the second choice was the rowan and the third choice was the holly, which are both attractive trees. I quite understand why Sandra made the rowan one of her choices.
I return to the three questions that I posed in May. The first was: what is a national tree for? At its simplest, consultees said that a national tree is a clear symbol of our affinity with Scotland’s trees, woods and forests and of their importance to us all.
My second question was about what it means if we decide to adopt a national tree. It means that we have a clear symbol, similar to the renowned Scots thistle, that has been chosen for and by the people of Scotland and which will be a legacy for generations to come.
I remember with affection the launch of the consultation at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh. We had poets, artists and a group of schoolchildren from Stockbridge primary school, who brought an energy, passion and enthusiasm to the proceedings that demonstrated the vision and longevity of the designation. Patricia Ferguson was right to identify the potential to use such an exercise to promote our environment and help people to connect with it.
The national tree is a symbol that can be used to promote and market Scotland and our magnificent environment—especially our trees, woods and forests. We should not forget that they cover 18 per cent of Scotland’s land, which is some 1.4 million hectares. That represents 45 per cent of the total forest resources in the UK.
A formal designation of the national tree of Scotland will take place in the coming months, as part of events to mark the year of natural Scotland. All members will have the opportunity to have their say.
Why is the Scots pine a great choice? I guess that the name has a lot to do with it for many people, but the Scots pine has a lot to offer, as a number of members have said. It is steeped in Scotland’s culture. As the date is close to Burns night, it would be remiss of me to overlook our national bard, Rabbie Burns, who mentioned the Scots pine—or the Scots fir, which is how it was known then, as Jamie McGrigor said—in many of his poems and songs.
The total area of Scots pine in Scotland is about 130,000 hectares, as Angus MacDonald said, which represents some 250 million trees. As other members have said, the trees are home to some of our most iconic species, such as the pine marten, the red squirrel, the capercaillie and the wildcat. The trees are also home to one of our unique birds—the Scottish crossbill, which is not found anywhere else in the world.
The Scots pine is the key component of our Caledonian native pinewoods, the remnants of which are all in the Scottish Highlands. The core area of that hugely important habitat is about 18,000 hectares, and we are actively working to see larger areas restored.
As Jamie McGrigor said, there are many old granny pines—that is the name that is given to very old Scots pine across the country, which are so old that it is difficult to tell their true age. I am a gentleman and I would never ask a lady her age, but Jamie McGrigor identified one such tree in Glen Loyne that is almost 600 years old. It was interesting to hear that there are older examples elsewhere in Europe.
We should not lose sight of the fact that the Scots pine is one of our most important productive tree species. It is valued for its excellent timber qualities and, as members have said, it is used in many historic and modern buildings across Scotland.
The designation of a national tree for Scotland will not only create a symbol and shine a spotlight on the great importance of Scotland’s trees but provide a stimulus for inspiration and innovation. The national tree is a reminder that forestry is a great success story in Scotland. We have a modern and vibrant industry that contributes some £670 million per year to the economy and more than 31,000 jobs.
I can announce—a number of members, including Ms Ferguson, picked up on this idea—that, to promote the national tree, I have asked Forestry Commission Scotland to make provision for a new grant to be created for innovative projects and events that raise the profile of the Scots pine, our new national tree. That will include a separate fund for schools, and more detail will follow in due course. It is vital to get the idea of a national tree into schools and to get schoolchildren conversant with it and what it stands for, because of the link to conservation.
Forestry Commission Scotland will explore links to new and on-going initiatives, such as a national tree day, national tree week and a Scots pine conference that is designed to explore the tree’s place in Scotland’s culture, our heritage and our economy. The fate of the tree has an important bearing on those matters. Unfortunately, the tree faces disease threats, as Joan McAlpine said. The Government is actively addressing that.
In 2014, the world’s spotlight is on Scotland, as we welcome the Commonwealth games to Glasgow and global golf fans to Gleneagles and as the people of Scotland have the opportunity to determine Scotland’s future in September. The Scots pine—with its rich colours, ancient history, vibrant ecology and valuable timber—is a superb and fitting symbol for our country. We know that it plays a huge role in tourism marketing and in marketing Scotland’s environment more generally.
I am pleased that the consultation respondents and the members here agree that the Scots pine is a worthy symbol to designate and that it will help to highlight the significance of our trees, woods and forests in Scotland.
Meeting closed at 17:39.