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Language: English / Gàidhlig


Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 31 October 2018

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Ferry Services, Early Years, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Caledonian Pinewood Forest


Caledonian Pinewood Forest

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame)

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-13223, in the name of Joan McAlpine, on restoring the Caledonian pinewood forest. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises that only 1% of the original Caledonian Pinewood forest remains today across Scotland, including areas in the south of Scotland; understands that the environmental and ecological consequences of this are significant as the pinewood forest is an important habitat for a number of wildlife species, including aspen, black grouse, capercaillie, golden eagle, juniper, wood ant, pine marten, red squirrel, tree lungwort, twinflower and wildcat; believes that many of the remaining fragments of forest are not being actively managed and that the Caledonian Pinewood Recovery Project, being implemented by Trees For Life, aims to save these remnant pinewoods; notes that the project sees Trees for Life working in partnership with The Woodland Trust Scotland to assess the health of the remaining pinewood fragments and work with landowners to promote their better management, thereby restoring Scotland’s unique pinewoods, and commends the work of Trees for Life and The Woodland Trust Scotland.


Joan McAlpine (South Scotland) (SNP)

It gives me great pleasure as species champion of our national tree—the Scots pine—to introduce the debate. The Scots pine is symbolic of Scotland. It is a majestic tree whose distinctive silhouette on the horizon tells the Highlander that he is home. If we close our eyes and imagine a Scots pine, we will most likely visualise it solitary against the sky. However, several millennia ago, the Scots pine did not stand alone; it was part of what the Romans later called the great wood of Caledon. At one time, it covered 1.5 million hectares. It was Scotland’s rainforest. The forest contained other trees including birch, rowan, aspen and juniper, and it was carpeted with a lush variety of ferns, mosses and lichens. It sheltered a vast array of wildlife, some of which—the lynx, the brown bear and the wolf, for example—are long extinct.

The ancient Caledonian forest itself is now threatened with extinction. Only 1 per cent of the 1.5 million hectares survives, in 84 fragments, some of which are very small. Although that is a tragedy for my species—the Scots pine—it is also potentially heartbreaking with respect to the animals and plants that continue to depend on our pine forests. The capercaillie, the red squirrel, the black grouse, the golden eagle, the Scottish crossbill, the pine marten, the wildcat, the twinflower and the wood ant are all found in the forest, and they have a stake in its survival.

Another purpose of the debate is to allow other members to champion their species and illustrate just how biodiversity works in practice. Although the 84 areas of ancient woodland that I mentioned have been identified by the Forestry Commission Scotland as part of the old Caledonian woodland, there are other pine forests elsewhere in Scotland, particularly in the south of Scotland, my area, that are hundreds of years old and are home to many of those species. In particular, I mention Shambellie wood near New Abbey, which is certainly worth a visit.

There is international recognition of the richness of Scotland’s pinewoods. They receive protection from the European Union habitats directive and are included in the Scottish biodiversity list. Despite that, they face enormous challenges, including overgrazing by deer, climate change, invasive non-native species, and diseases such as Dothistroma needle blight, which can cause defoliation and even death. Foresters have to be very vigilant to it.

When the Trees for Life charity approached me to help to promote its Caledonian pinewood recovery project, which is a partnership project with the Woodland Trust, I immediately agreed. I am delighted to welcome Trees for Life representatives Alan McDonnell and Fiona Holmes to the gallery. The project focuses on the 84 surviving fragments of ancient forest and is supported by Scottish Natural Heritage, the Forestry Commission Scotland and Scottish Land & Estates. It offers owners a free survey of their woods to assess their ecological health and resilience to the threats that I have mentioned. Ecologists can then suggest ways in which the challenges can be met. It is a really positive collaborative venture that we all hope will contribute to the Scottish Government’s aim of meeting the international biodiversity target to restore 10,000 hectares of native woodland.

How does one go about assessing and addressing the ecological health of a pinewood forest? I decided to see for myself by visiting the Dundreggan conservation estate in Glen Moriston near Loch Ness, which is Trees for Life’s 10,000-acre flagship restoration project. It was purchased 10 years ago entirely through fundraising, and has been described as

“the most ambitious rewilding project anywhere in the UK.”

Through natural regeneration and planting more than 1 million saplings, Trees for Life and its volunteers aim to create an unbroken native woodland link between Glen Moriston and the magnificent Glen Affric to the north. That directly addresses the fragmentation that afflicts pinewoods and will create a corridor to allow birds and animals that depend on the woods to increase their range and to flourish.

Natural forest regeneration is hard work. My visit allowed me to see how enormous the task is. Doug Gilbert, who is the operations manager at the Dundreggan estate, walked me up Glen Moriston to see a small clump of picturesque but very gnarled Scots pine, which he said dated back to the time when the glen was cleared of people after the Jacobite rebellion of 1745. That is a poignant and romantic story in itself, but as Doug pointed out, those 18th century survivors are poignant for another reason. The trees are known as geriatric trees. Once the estate was given over to sport in the Victorian era, few trees survived to maturity, because deer devour saplings and young trees. Only the geriatric or granny trees survive, and they eventually become infertile.

To combat that, Dundreggan has an impressive tree nursery that allows conservationists to collect and grow pines and other trees on site. That is very important for biosecurity, not only because of the diseases that I have mentioned, but because it is more natural to propagate from local stock. The nursery workers spend a lot of time recreating the conditions in which wild tree seeds are fertilised and dispersed by birds and animals. They also grow species that they can then sell on in order to earn an income to sustain the charity. The work is labour intensive, and it illustrates that forest regeneration can help to sustain other species that we all want to prosper in rural Scotland—particularly, human beings.

Natural regeneration is considered to be vital, but young Scots pine trees are very vulnerable, especially in winter, when they pop up through the snow, advertising themselves as a tasty snack to any passing deer, who apparently prefer them to birch, which is the last tree they will eat.

The charity has begun using special clip-on shields to protect the saplings. There is also fencing, but it has a finite lifespan and is not foolproof. Furthermore, there is a view among ecologists that fencing cages woodland and the creatures who live in it and prevents natural spread.

Dundreggan employs a gamekeeper, whom I believe it inherited from the previous sporting estate, and it uses innovative ways of keeping the deer out, including using groups of noisy volunteers to disturb them. I am told that bagpipes are particularly effective.

Commercial monoculture is another threat to forest regeneration. Some of the ecologists whom I spoke to asked whether it is right that natural regeneration attracts smaller grants than commercial planting attracts. That debate is perhaps for another day.

Today is an opportunity to focus on the Caledonian pinewood recovery project of Trees for Life and the Woodland Trust. I hope that members will promote it—and their own species—in their constituencies. I hope that we will dwell on how best to ensure that the ancient Caledonian pine forest does not become extinct.

As the writer Ali Smith once said, the Scots pine may be

“noble and solitary ... sculpted into aloneness by the wind.”

Our pine is not lonesome, but a much-loved companion to the crossbill, the red squirrel, the marten, the capercaillie and many more. That is why I hope that it will flourish.


Edward Mountain (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

I thank Joan McAlpine for bringing the motion to the chamber for debate. Protecting our Caledonian pinewoods is vital.

Managing the hills of Scotland, where our Caledonian pine naturally grows, presents unique challenges, and nature itself is probably the most difficult thing to predict.

I had the privilege of managing areas of upland Scotland for 12 years, and I believe that I helped to preserve the Caledonian pinewoods that we are talking about. I would like to highlight some of the issues that are involved in expanding the Caledonian pinewood, the importance of which, I am sure, we all agree on. One project that I did involved trying to establish 600 hectares of replacement native Caledonian pinewood. I can tell members that I have the scars to prove it. For years, we collected seed from registered Caledonian pines, which we propagated. We took cuttings from the trees and grafted them on to pine rootstock. Woodland grant scheme approval from the Forestry Commission was key to the project; I thought that getting it would be relatively simple. That was probably my first big mistake, because the level of consultation that was required was massive. Six years later, after hundreds of hours spent consulting every interest group that came forward, we were no further on, except that I had thousands of trees outgrowing their pots in a nursery.

Among the areas of contention was the fact that the pinewood that I wanted to plant would reduce the hunting grounds for eagles, so bird groups were against it. Some people were against the removal of rabbits, which was encouraged by Scottish Natural Heritage, because their removal would reduce prey for predators. It was also argued that the pinewood would reduce the area of calcareous grassland, which happened to be damaged by overgrazing by the rabbits that were important to the raptor groups but despised by SNH.

It was felt that pedestrian gates in fences might put off walkers, so gates were not supported by the Ramblers Association, but were approved by the Forestry Commission.

Some groups objected on the ground that the scenic view would be curtailed by trees that would merely be replacing native woodlands that had died out. On and on the process went; one day, a group would support the application, and the next day it would not.

However, there was one constant—the support of the Forestry Commission. Like my client, it knew about the importance of Caledonian pinewood. I am grateful for the commission’s support, because it meant that, eventually, we succeeded in getting thousands of trees planted, which was extremely important in helping to preserve the Caledonian woods. I make the observation that I wish that people would sometimes take a more holistic approach to achieving that goal. It is great that the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy has streamlined the process of applying for woodland grant schemes, and I hope that it is progressed.

I turn briefly to needle blight—I will not use the Latin name, because I would probably get tongue-tied—which is a problem that faces pinewoods across the UK. The Forestry Commission’s advice is that planting should be undertaken only when it is deemed to be essential to the short-term survival and long-term integrity of a pinewood ecosystem. That means that we need to encourage natural regeneration. I believe that the commission is right about that. To achieve that, as Joan McAlpine made clear, we will probably have to fence the fragile young pine to protect those tasty morsels from all the animals that prey on them, which include mountain hare and deer. If fencing is not acceptable—I know that it is not acceptable to everyone—we must accept that there needs to be a significant reduction in deer and hare numbers, which might in turn be unacceptable to other people. Such decisions, which are forced on land managers by nature, are the real decisions that we must make. Although they are difficult to make, we have to make them.

I welcome the debate, I welcome the work of Trees for Life, the Woodland Trust Scotland and private landowners who are trying to improve the situation, and I welcome the commitment of the Forestry Commission. All of them are working to promote our Caledonian pinewoods and jointly, as a Parliament, we should support them in making the hard decisions that they have to make, based on knowledge, not on emotion.


Claudia Beamish (South Scotland) (Lab)

I thank Joan McAlpine, as the species champion for our iconic Scots pine, for bringing this important matter to the chamber for debate.

From the Caledonian pine forests of the Scottish Highlands to the Atlantic oak woodlands of the western seaboard, trees provide us with a fabulous array of benefits. We value them for everything from the recreational opportunities that they provide to the carbon that they sequester and the home that they provide for some of our favourite wildlife, including red squirrels, woodpeckers and species of global importance such as the lichens and mosses that are found in our Atlantic woodlands.

It must also be recognised that native woodlands and commercial forests are important sources of timber and other products. Our woods and forests are important national assets, and it is evident that more of them would be beneficial.

I whole-heartedly support any measure to bring sustainable, biodiverse pinewoods into suitable places and to protect existing pockets of ancient woods, which Joan McAlpine highlighted, whether they are of pine or of other species that are appropriate in that place.

The ancient pinewoods that are scattered across the northern parts of Scotland are an important part of our natural history and, with proper management, should remain an important part of Scotland’s natural future.

Climate change is a significant factor in the decline of ancient, indigenous Scots pinewoods. I understand that the trees, surprisingly, can thrive only in relatively dry conditions. That is one more example of why we need more joined-up approaches to tackling individual issues and wider climate change problems—the two are unavoidably and inextricably linked.

Whether they are pinewoods in the Highlands or native hardwoods such as willow, birch and aspen in the south of Scotland, it is hugely important that natural woodlands are preserved and managed responsibly. Carrifran wildwood near Moffat, in my region, is a brilliant example of the ecological clock being turned back 6,000 years—and hopefully forward another 6,000 years.

Although this is perhaps not confusing for the members here in the chamber, I clarify that the work to maintain and promote the regeneration of the remaining ancient pine woodland is different from the planting of monocultures in Scotland in previous times.

The Scottish Government has committed to afforestation targets, and focusing on re-establishing our ancient pinewoods, alongside other native woodlands, provides important benefits for biodiversity.

I applaud the efforts of Trees for Life and the Woodland Trust Scotland in engaging with landowners to protect and regenerate ancient Scots pinewoods.

Regardless of the species of tree or where the woodland is located, an often-overlooked contribution to biodiversity and our natural environment is work to ensure that areas of less intensive woodland are provided, especially as corridors for wildlife.

Finally, I have two questions for the minister to consider. Both the current Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, of which I am a member, and its predecessor committee in the previous session, have highlighted and worked hard on deer management arrangements. Joan McAlpine and Edward Mountain both highlighted that issue in their speeches. The main challenge to restoration is large numbers of red deer grazing on young trees. Can the minister provide an update on the latest SNH review in that context?

The Government recently announced a biodiversity challenge fund in the programme for government. Will projects that seek the restoration of ancient pinewoods be eligible for that funding? Given the major challenge to the future of ancient Caledonian pinewoods, does the minister have plans to prevent the loss of existing ancient woodland, too?

Together, let us protect the Scots pine and our ancient forests and woodland more broadly in order to protect biodiversity for the enjoyment of everybody.


Andy Wightman (Lothian) (Green)

I thank Joan McAlpine for securing the debate. As someone who left school and went straight into forestry and spent a lot of time campaigning in Aberdeenshire to protect pinewoods on the Mar Lodge estate and so on, I am delighted to be able to talk about native pinewoods. However, the fact that we have been talking about 1 per cent for the best part of half a century is testament to the brutalising, destructive and degrading forms of extractive land use that have dominated too much of Scotland for too long.

Members have mentioned excellent work that is being done by organisations such as RSPB Scotland, the Woodland Trust Scotland, Trees for Life and Forest Enterprise over long periods in places such as Glen Affric and the recent work done by Arkaig Community Forest and the Woodland Trust on the south side of Loch Arkaig. Other examples include work by community groups such as Birse Community Trust on the Forest of Birse commonty and work by private landowners, some of whom have made significant efforts—most notably Anders Povlsen and his company Wildland Ltd in Glenfeshie.

Glenfeshie was where I learned some harsh truths about land and power in my 20s. The estate is one of the jewels in the crown of our natural heritage and yet it has been owned, managed and abused by a succession of rapacious landowners who are determined to manage it purely as a hunting playground, destroying, in the process, one of the most important remnants of Caledonian pinewood.

In 1992, I was working in international forest conservation across the Boreal region through the Taiga Rescue Network, which was established in Jokkmokk in northern Sweden in 1992. We used Glenfeshie and Mar Lodge as powerful examples of the hypocrisy of the Scottish Office and the UK Government, which, along with many other northern Governments, were lecturing the global south on the need to conserve tropical rainforests in their countries, while presiding over unprecedented levels of native forest destruction here. Our work with the global environmental community then helped to draw attention to the fact that the worst-performing countries in forest protection were those such as Scotland. The then Secretary of State for Scotland Ian Lang’s press conference at the earth summit certainly did not go as he had intended.

Conservationist Dick Balharry was a key influence on me then. Sadly, Dick died in April 2015, but, a week before he left us, the Royal Scottish Geographical Society awarded him the Geddes environmental medal for his lifetime achievements in conservation. His involvement with Glenfeshie ran from 1964 to his death. In his Geddes lecture, he argued:

“Traditional sporting estates cannot stand on the moral high ground of estate ownership as they have tried to claim for over the last 200 years. Rather they embody the selfish greed of a Victorian era, outdated and ludicrous.”

Dick Balharry was particularly critical of the use of fencing as a means to regenerate native forests, which we have heard about in today’s debate. He had been instrumental behind the scenes in the very heated public campaign to protect what is now the Creag Meagaidh national nature reserve from being converted into a non-native commercial plantation. That drew heavy criticism and political hostility from the then Tory Government. As he argued in his lecture:

“The sad fact, witnessed throughout Scotland today, is that in many areas fencing deer out of young native woodland has become a way to maintain easier stalking opportunities and to protect established relationships and social networks. In effect many deer fences are built to protect the interests of the few.”

The Scottish Government has commissioned two independent reviews that could play a critical role in reviving the fortunes of our native forests. The grouse moor management group, chaired by Professor Alan Werritty, is due to report by June next year, and the deer working group—I think that Claudia Beamish mentioned it—by the end of April. The latter was chaired, until his recent tragic death, by Simon Pepper, to whose efforts through WWF Scotland and on his own account over many years, in advancing the case for the restoration of our natural environment and the place of people in it, I would like to pay tribute in this debate.

The core reason that Scotland’s native pinewoods are still dying is the continued preservation of vast tracts of Scotland as playgrounds for the idle rich to hunt all manner of its wildlife. Political will can change that—and I hope that it will do so soon.


Gillian Martin (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)

I congratulate Joan McAlpine on securing this particularly relevant debate, which is timely, given the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent report, which points to the fact that an increase in global temperatures is a very real danger. A debate on the protection and recovery of woodland is extremely pertinent to our efforts to provide and enhance the carbon sinks that can mitigate the effects of carbon emissions—effects that cost us dear as regards human health and wellbeing, as well as having a negative impact on our economy. That gets lost in the debate, but we really have to ramp up the chatter on that, too.

Before I talk about the value of trees for climate change, I will proudly mention my interest as the species champion of the yew. Scotland’s and Europe’s oldest living trees are yews, and it is fairly likely that the ancient forests of Scotland would have had many yews in them.

Trees have a vital role in the balancing of CO2 and oxygen levels, and widespread deforestation across the world has had a hugely negative impact by releasing more CO2 into the atmosphere. The impact of the threats of the newly elected Brazilian Prime Minister and his plans for the Amazon will not be lost on anyone. However, what we have growing naturally in Scotland is not nearly reaching our potential for sufficient mitigation of carbon emissions, so, as a matter of urgency, we have to do what we can to regenerate lost woodlands.

Particularly helpful in the battle around CO2 and climate change are the ancient Caledonian pinewoods, which live on undisturbed soils. The fact that such soil is undisturbed and protected underneath the ancient forest means that it acts as one of our most efficient carbon sinks, locking up carbon. The Caledonian pinewoods contribute significantly to the ecosystem services that are gained from native woodlands generally in Scotland, with the most relevant means of climate change mitigation that we have being carbon sequestration. Pine trees also happen to be one of the top species that can sequester the most carbon.

The work of Trees for Life to protect the existing areas of ancient Caledonian pinewoods and to increase the extent of Caledonian pinewoods across Scotland via tree-planting programmes is a big step in the right direction for Scotland’s efforts to tackle climate change. I thank Trees for Life and the Woodland Trust, which are putting tremendous effort into running the Caledonian pinewood recovery project, along with their partners in Scottish Natural Heritage, Forestry Commission Scotland, and Scottish Land and Estates.

I pay tribute to those individual home owners, primary schools, small communities and farmers who give over land to voluntarily plant indigenous trees, with or without the help of any funding that may be available. Coming from a rural constituency, I have many constituents who take individual responsibility for planting trees to provide a degree of carbon sequestration and improve habitats for wild animal, bird and insect species.

I want to mention specific tree-planting projects that I have visited in my constituency, in the village of Cultercullen and at Fintry primary school, which have done new planting to play their part. In my area, it has been proven that even the smallest tree plantation is enough to attract red squirrels, just one Scottish species that we know is under threat; I recognise that Gail Ross, who is sitting next to me, is the species champion for the red squirrel.

Like everything with regard to environmental protection, the small actions of individuals in taking responsibility is hugely irnpactful cumulatively. I thank Joan McAlpine for highlighting the work that is being done to ensure that that is done on a wide scale with the Caledonian forest. The forest will provide local protection against flooding and improve biodiversity, not to mention making a significant impact in our drive to become one of the world’s first carbon-neutral nations.


Finlay Carson (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)

I thank Joan McAlpine for bringing this important subject to the chamber, and I recognise the work that Trees for Life and the Woodland Trust Scotland are doing to preserve the Caledonian pine forest.

I am pleased to be taking part in the debate, with particular relevance to my role as the natural environment spokesperson for the Scottish Conservatives. Barely a day goes by now when we are not hearing through the media, or indeed working in this Parliament, that we need to do more to protect our environment and stunning landscapes. That is one of the reasons why I am an enthusiastic supporter of a Galloway national park, as I am sure that the minister will find out now that she is in the role. It is also why debates such as this are so important in raising awareness of issues facing our natural environment and the amazingly diverse species that we have in Scotland.

I am particularly delighted to be taking part in the debate, because I cannot resist the opportunity to speak about an animal that lives in the Caledonian pine forest and other native woodlands. Tonight of all nights, Halloween, I am pleased to say that I am the bat champion. More specifically, I am the species champion for the Leisler’s bat. The Leisler’s bat flies fast and high near the tops of the trees, and toonies might also spot it flying around lamp posts looking for insects attracted to the light. The Leisler’s bat forages for flies, moths and beetles, locating its prey using echolocation. Sometimes it can even be heard by the human ear if one listens out for it just before it emerges at sunset.

Most importantly for this debate, it roosts in holes in trees, as well as in buildings, and you might be lucky enough to attract one to live in your bat box. They are sweet wee animals. During the summer, the females form maternity colonies and usually have a single pup. During the winter, Leisler’s bats mainly hibernate in tree holes, but occasionally they will hibernate in buildings or underground. The Leisler’s bat has golden-tipped or reddish-brown fur, which is darker at the base and longer over its shoulders and upper back, giving it a lion’s mane appearance, so it is very cute.

Although the Leisler’s bat does not specifically reside in pinewood forests, it does thrive in habitats of native woodland. You will be delighted to know, Presiding Officer, that one of the biggest colonies is just up the road from your former home in Minnigaff at the Wood of Cree. In the United Kingdom, bats and their roosts are protected by law, meaning that it is illegal to damage, destroy or disturb bats or their roost sites. A roost is defined as any place, including a tree, that wild bats use for shelter or protection.

All bats in the UK feed on insects, and because trees can support a large variety and abundance of insects they are really important for foraging bats. Native trees such as those in the Caledonian pine forest support the greatest abundance of insects, with veteran or ancient trees being of particular value.

Bats not only feed in woodland but live within trees in sheltered locations that are known as roosts, and all UK bats utilise those natural features to roost in trees.

While researching for tonight’s debate, I was astonished to discover that the native pinewoods, which formed the westernmost outpost of the forest in Europe, are estimated to have once covered 1.5 million hectares as a vast primeval wilderness of Scotland with pine, birch, rowan, aspen, juniper and other trees. The deforestation has been so extensive that the Trees for Life group, which helps to plant trees in order to restore the Caledonian forest to some of its former glory, says that our generation is the last with the opportunity to save it. We do not want to be accused of not seeing the wood for the trees, but it is not just about trees; it is about the plethora of species that rely on the forest to provide the homes and food that they need to thrive.

I am hugely grateful to Liz Ferrell of the Bat Conservation Trust for providing me with the information for tonight’s debate, which supplements a recent, excellent bat walk with bat detectors in Holyrood park. I thoroughly recommend the bat walk to anybody who wants to give it a shot.

Once again, I thank Joan McAlpine for bringing the subject to the chamber and the Trees for Life group and the Woodland Trust for their hard work. We must continue to protect our species and champion them at every opportunity. I am pleased to have had the opportunity on Halloween to do that for the bat.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Thank you very much. Would you clarify whether it is the Leisler’s bat or the lesser bat?

Finlay Carson

It is the Leisler’s bat.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I was wondering about the greater bat, but I understand now that it is the Leisler’s bat. I am sure that the Official Report will sort all that out.

Due to the number of members who wish to speak, I am minded to accept a motion under rule 8.14.3 that the debate be extended by up to 30 minutes. We will not need 30 minutes, so do not panic.

Motion moved,

That, under Rule 8.14.3, the debate be extended by up to 30 minutes.—[Joan McAlpine]

Motion agreed to.


Gail Ross (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP)

I, too, thank Joan McAlpine for this important debate. I agree that the Scots pine is, indeed, a magnificent tree—in fact, I have a couple in my garden.

I am the species champion for the red squirrel—unfortunately, I have none of those in my garden—and the expansion of our Caledonian pinewood forests offers hope for the species from the threats that contribute to its decline. Red squirrels were once a common sight across the UK, but they have been in decline for decades. Scotland is home to 75 per cent of the estimated 121,000 reds that are left. Non-native grey squirrels are a major threat and are capable of arriving in an area and wiping out the native population of reds in as little as 15 years. They do this by spreading squirrel pox, which is a virus that is fatal to reds but not greys.

Reds can also be affected by habitat isolation. In broadleaf woodlands, grey squirrels have the advantage of being able to process tannins in food sources such as acorns earlier in the year, helping them to out-compete the reds for food and territory. However, the reds do not suffer that disadvantage in Caledonian pinewoods and have a much greater chance of establishing populations there. At the moment, the isolation of many Caledonian pinewoods can leave red squirrels isolated with limited ability to face challenges like fluctuations in food availability or climate change. Very small sparse patches of ancient Caledonian pine forest are not great for red squirrels; the canopies are so open and unconnected that squirrels often do not use them, and moving across heathery ground exposes them to too great a risk from predators. Connecting the pinewoods will give red squirrels greater ability to develop strongholds and cope with difficult times, particularly by allowing reds to look for alternative sources of food and move across landscapes to seek the best shelter in the harshest weather and by increasing breeding opportunities to help with recovery from periods of low population.

Trees for Life and the Woodland Trust Scotland are currently running the Caledonian pinewood recovery project—or CPR project, which is so appropriate—with advice and guidance from Scottish Natural Heritage and Scottish Land & Estates. A particular focus of the project is to work with private landowners and managers with what remains of the forest to identify the practical steps that are needed to first protect and then expand it.

As members said, the trees face particular challenges, such as being eaten by deer, disease and climate change.

Keith Brown (Clackmannanshire and Dunblane) (SNP)

Has the member heard of the species for which I am species champion, the sticky catchfly? It lives where I live, in the Ochil hills, and where I work, in Holyrood—it exists only in those two places. I mention it not to test the member but to try to get “sticky catchfly” into the Official Report.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

You have been used, Ms Ross, but do not mind.

Gail Ross

I thank Keith Brown for that important sticky catchfly intervention.

The CPR project seeks to provide landowners with support and guidance so that they can successfully apply for funding from the forestry grant scheme for help with things like deer fencing, removing invasive non-native species and planting a range of tree species associated with Caledonian pinewoods.

I am happy to say that we have just had some great news. I congratulate Trees For Life on winning a vote for a major European funding award. The charity’s pioneering reds return project has just been awarded more than £25,000 from the European Outdoor Conservation Association funding stream.

I thank everyone who voted for the reds. The money will fund a project to reintroduce red squirrels to four carefully chosen woods in the north-west Highlands. That will significantly expand the species’ numbers and range, with the new populations able to flourish, safe from the threats that greys present.

The project will also help the natural expansion of Scotland’s native woodlands, because red squirrels plant new trees when they forget where they buried their winter stores of nuts and seeds.

On behalf of the red squirrels, I thank Trees For Life and everyone else who is involved in saving this iconic species.


Bill Bowman (North East Scotland) (Con)

I thank Joan McAlpine for securing this important debate.

I did not realise that I was sitting next to—[Interruption.]

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Just bear with me a moment, Mr Bowman. Ms Beamish, we understand that you need to leave, and that is fine—just say your farewells and go. Mr Bowman is getting a bit distracted, and we do not want you distracted, Mr Bowman.

Bill Bowman

Not while I am trying to crack my joke—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Sorry. Can you reprise it?

Bill Bowman

I was going to say that I did not know that I would be sitting next to Batman in this debate. [Laughter.] Finlay Carson is sitting between me and Edward Mountain, so if he is Batman, I hope that that makes Edward Mountain, and not me, Robin.

My speech is more about flower power, because I am species champion for the twinflower. I have had the pleasure of learning about the importance of the Caledonian pine forest during my visits to see the twinflower in north-east Scotland.

The twinflower has two rather attractive pink, bell-like flowers on a single, slender stem. A thicker stem below creeps across the ground to create a rather large mat of the plant. In Scotland, the twinflower is found only in Caledonian pinewoods. Large patches of twinflower are an indicator of ancient or long-established pinewood. That is mainly because the flower reproduces slowly and cannot spread quickly into new habitat, so it is generally restricted to areas of ancient pinewood.

The species has no special legal protection, so the twinflower’s future in Scotland is directly linked to the future of the Caledonian pinewoods. Many of the Caledonian pinewood remnants are made up only of ageing Scots pines, as we heard, which are reaching the ends of their lives, so the overriding priority is to secure a new generation of trees for the future.

The clearance of native woodland, continued habitat destruction and changes in woodland management have reduced the incidence of the twinflower to about 50 unrelated sites. Although the twinflower is one of Scotland’s most iconic flowers and is often regarded as an emblem of Scotland’s ancient Caledonian forests, it is under threat.

Work has been undertaken to ensure that the Cairngorms national park is a stronghold for the remaining population. The Cairngorms rare plant project, which was launched in March 2010, aimed to deliver urgently needed action and was a partnership between the Cairngorms National Park Authority, Scottish Natural Heritage and the University of Aberdeen.

Past fragmentation of native pinewoods has meant that the distances for pollinating insects to travel between patches of the twinflower are too great. That has contributed to the twinflower’s continued decline, which has resulted in the twinflower being classed as “nationally scarce” in the UK. However, the project has developed innovative new methods to move carefully selected plants closer to existing patches of the twinflower. That pioneering project, alongside projects with the objective of expanding the area of native pinewoods, such as the Caledonian pinewood recovery project, should help to ensure that twinflower populations will be safeguarded long into the future.

About 6,000 years ago, an estimated 1.5 million hectares of Scotland were covered in rich native pinewoods. Now, only about 1 per cent of the original extent of forest remains, often as small and isolated fragments. Much of the wildlife that is dependent on the forest has been lost.

Native pine woodland is categorised as a priority habitat under the UK biodiversity action plan, and many populations of twinflower in Scotland are on designated sites, so the plant enjoys a fair measure of protection. However, it is still felt that further action should be taken to improve the plant’s chances of survival in this country.

Over the past two decades, there has been welcome enthusiasm for revitalising Scotland’s old Caledonian pinewoods. Management has focused on the regeneration of pine trees in the few remaining natural woods and on creating new native woodlands. The Caledonian pinewood recovery project aims to save the remnant pinewoods and, over the next two years, Trees for Life, working in partnership with Woodland Trust Scotland, will work with landowners to promote the pinewoods’ better management, thus restoring and protecting Scotland’s unique pinewoods for the future.

Glen Derry, Glen Lui and Glen Quoich—I hope that I have pronounced that correctly—are three areas in which Caledonian pinewood recovery will be concentrated. I was lucky enough to visit those areas in July this year during my visit to the Mar Lodge estate and the twinflower sites that are found there, and I hope to go back next year to see the continued success and recovery of the area and the twinflower populations.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Thank you—the things that you learn in this chair about the twinflower and Bill Bowman. I had never put the two together before.


The Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment (Mairi Gougeon)

It is always such a pleasure to attend a species champion debate. I thank Joan McAlpine for bringing the motion to the chamber for debate. She has raised the vital issue of the Caledonian pinewood forest, and the debate has given us the chance to hear about some other species.

Edward Mountain

Will the minister accept that I was entirely incorrectly associated with the robin species? As a species champion, I represent the golden plover, which is a bird from the high hills of Scotland. Does she agree that the golden plover is a beautiful bird?

Mairi Gougeon

I absolutely agree. I thank Edward Mountain for clarifying that for the Official Report.

I will consider some of the points that were made earlier. I know that Claudia Beamish had to leave the chamber early tonight, but Andy Wightman confirmed that we will be hearing from the deer working group and the Werritty group next year. I will write to Claudia Beamish with a response to the other questions that she raised.

I will move on to some of the other speeches. Gillian Martin raised a lot of important points, but one element that was missing was the yew tree. I was expecting to be regaled with tales of her Gothic youth, which I believe she has raised in the chamber. That would have been pertinent, given the day on which we are discussing these issues.

Finlay Carson’s speech about the bat was very interesting and, also, timely. Gail Ross talked about the red squirrel; I am very lucky because it is a regular occurrence to see them in my constituency.

There have been some fantastic speeches. I also welcome the speeches from members from the south of Scotland. Particularly this week, I have spent quite a lot of time travelling around the south of Scotland. This morning, I was at the Barony campus to discuss the forestry strategy with young foresters and people who are involved in the sector, and they are keen to contribute to that strategy. The south of Scotland is a beautiful part of the world where forestry is vital.

As we have heard, the Caledonian pinewoods are dominant through the northern mainland of Scotland, and they thrive on thin soils in low-fertility conditions. As well as being a beautiful and prominent component of our Highland landscape, they create an important habitat for wildlife, from mosses to mushrooms to pine martens. The pinewoods are home to some of our most iconic and rare species, including Britain’s only endemic species of bird, the Scottish crossbill, which is unique to Scotland.

Individual species are so important that, as I have said, many members of the Parliament are Scottish Environment LINK species champions for iconic or threatened animals and plants. I had a meeting with the Woodland Trust last week, at which I was told about all the fantastic work that Joan McAlpine has done. The trust claimed that she is the best species champion—of course, I personally took issue with that, but we will let it slide for now.

I did not realise initially that the trees are called “granny pines”, as Joan McAlpine said, but they are immediately recognisable to people who are familiar with the Scottish Highlands. However, they may not be as well known as some of the iconic species for which they provide both a home and protection, so I am delighted to have had this debate today in order to recognise their value and to explore opportunities for their further enhancement and restoration

These pines create a rich habitat that is internationally recognised. As well as a providing a home for common plants such as bell heather and blaeberry, other internationally scarce flowers grow alongside them, including the twinflower. I did not realise that Bill Bowman is the species champion for that flower which, as he said, is the emblem of Scotland’s ancient Caledonian forests. Rare and important animals live alongside them, too, such as the red squirrel, which Gail Ross mentioned, and invertebrates such as the Scottish wood ant and the highly endangered pine hoverfly.

We should not forget the remarkable cultural and tourism importance of the forests. They attract visitors from far afield, who come to enjoy the ancient green scenery of places such as Glen Affric, Abernethy and Rothiemurchus, and the incredible wildlife that we have there. That beauty has been brought to many across the world through films, and through television programmes that have been dedicated to it, depicting the Scottish Highland scenery and wildlife in all its true drama.

Unfortunately, as we have heard, there are threats to the future health of these iconic forests. Joan McAlpine discussed them in her opening remarks; they include browsing pressure, climate change and invasive non-native plants. However, there is good news. Actions are being undertaken by the Government, public bodies, our partners, non-governmental organisations, communities and businesses to protect and improve the condition of the habitat. That work is effective only with strong collaboration, co-ordinated effort and long-term commitment from all of us, and I am glad that today’s debate has shown how much of that is happening.

Joan McAlpine talked about the positive work that is being done by the Trees for Life and Woodland Trust partnership project. I am glad that they could join us for the debate and I add my congratulations to those from Gail Ross for their recent funding award. I am pleased to hear that their project includes action on the ground and work to better understand these precious forests. We must have both if we are to succeed in protecting that unique woodland for the future.

The Government is also a keen and active partner in work in the pinewoods. Through Forest Enterprise Scotland, we are supporting an ambitious programme of conservation work to restore all the 22 remnants of native pinewoods on the national forest estate, which has been under way since the early 1990s. That is clearly a long-term project; it involves bringing the iconic woods of Glen Affric, Black Wood of Rannoch and Glenmore back to thriving healthy woodland communities and creating the conditions to allow them to regenerate and expand. With the completion of the devolution of forestry, the Scottish ministers will be leaders in sustainable forest management and sustainable development through their stewardship of those assets—so, no pressure there!

Through our national parks, we are also leading conservation work for a number of pinewoods, including Glen Falloch in the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs national park, which is the most southerly of our pinewood remnants. I am particularly pleased to hear about the positive conversations being had there to encourage owners to produce long-term management plans to bring those sites into good condition. Also, of course, the Cairngorms national park famously contains some of the best remnants of Caledonian pinewoods in Scotland, such as Mar Lodge, Abernethy, Glenmore and Rothiemurchus. All of those are enthusiastically supported by the Cairngorms National Park Authority.

I also welcome the great innovations coming from others that we have heard about today. The Cairngorms Connect partnership of four adjoining public and charity land managers—RSPB Scotland, Wildland Limited, Forestry Enterprise Scotland, and Scottish Natural Heritage—announced the successful award of a grant of approximately £3.75 million from the endangered landscapes programme. That grant will fund the biggest habitat restoration project in the UK, encompassing 600km2 of land. The partnership will work on restoration projects across the landscape, including expanding and restoring Caledonian pinewoods to their natural limit at 1,000m above sea level.

The physical work on the ground is vital, but it needs to be underpinned by good information, as Edward Mountain mentioned in his contribution. The public investment in the native woodland survey of Scotland, which was published by Forestry Commission Scotland in 2014, is particularly valuable. The survey recorded that a high level of grazing by herbivores is the main contributor to the poor ecological condition of many native woodland habitats, including the Caledonian pinewoods.

Of course, there are other threats and challenges. I was sorry to hear about the issue that Edward Mountain had when he was trying to do his bit for Caledonian pine forest restoration. As far as I am aware, that is not as much of an issue any more.

One particular issue in the Scottish Government’s biodiversity route map to 2020, and one of the areas that we have focused effort on, is the reduction of browsing pressure. Grant support is available under the current rural development programme for action to reduce browsing impacts and encourage regeneration on designated remnant Caledonian pinewood sites, which demonstrates our commitment to protecting and improving these important habitats in Scotland.

We are also supporting work to identify and address threats from long-term climate change-induced pressures, which Gillian Martin emphasised in her remarks. That research suggests that the potential for future loss of biodiversity and species is high, and that the smaller and more isolated the woodland, the more vulnerable it is to those losses. As Gillian Martin and Claudia Beamish said, even these small areas of woodland are very important. That is why we are helping the forests to adapt to future changes through actions that will encourage regeneration and expansion, and thereby build greater resilience and adaptability.

All of that work is part of the Scottish Government's prioritised plan for meeting the international targets in our route map to 2020. We have taken an ecosystem approach that focuses on the need to protect ecosystems in order to support nature, including Scotland’s native woodlands, and to support our own wellbeing and a thriving economy.

I very much welcome the attention that has been given to these important habitats and the efforts of the public, private and third sectors to secure them for the future. I support Joan McAlpine’s motion, which recognises the importance of this woodland, the threats that it faces and the work and passion of all those involved in its conservation.

Meeting closed at 18:02.