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8 April 2022

Scotland’s forests are the largest they have been for 900 years

The share of Scotland that is forested has increased from 6 per cent a century ago to around 18 per cent today.

By Nick Ferris

A quiet revolution is taking place north of the river Tweed. Scotland’s forests are expanding at breakneck speed: the share of Scotland that is forested has increased from just under 6 per cent a century ago, to around 18 per cent today. The country now has nearly as much forest as it did 1,000 years ago, according to data from researchers at Our World in Data.

Forests first colonised the country some 11,000 years ago, after the last ice age retreated. By the Roman invasion of England 2,000 years ago, around half of Scotland’s forests were already lost, largely as a result of deforestation. 

After the First World War, the government realised that a domestic timber industry was a matter of national security. Scotland was soon covered in non-native pine plantations, which helped boost forest cover, but they were bad news for biodiversity. Since the 1980s, more care has been taken to plant native trees, though concerns remain over the species being planted. 

The Scottish government has a target for 21 per cent forest cover by 2032. The rewilding and climate movements mean that reforestation is now wildly popular: some 80 per cent of Scottish people supported the reforestation of the Highlands in a 2021 survey.

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