National Tree

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 22nd May 2013.

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Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

I congratulate Joan McAlpine on securing time to debate this issue. I am very pleased to debate it in the year of natural Scotland, and I support any initiative to make Scotland greener and any commitment to our woodlands. We have heard from many members why it is so important, and from many organisations including the Woodland Trust, the Scottish Wildlife Trust, Scottish Environment LINK and the John Muir Trust. Mike MacKenzie mentioned that Sitka spruce does not support indigenous wildlife, and I think that this is a very important step that we can take to ensure that our wildlife has every chance to thrive.

I hope that a national tree will be more than symbolic. Too-recent history has seen the trampling of a site of special scientific interest—one of the most protective of all designations. I believe that designations and titles should stand for something and should really mean something.

If having a national tree brings increased determination to protect our natural spaces and places for their inherent value, it is right that we should have one. It is right that we should celebrate a national tree, but while we focus on one tree we should also dwell on the interconnectedness of all our native species.

Scotland was once a forest land until human activities stripped it of almost all its ancient woodland. Of course, climatic change and environmental degradation has not helped. However, we will be far richer ecologically, culturally and financially if we increase our commitment to our native woodlands and forests.

I welcome the growing interest in community woodland and in community ownership of woodland, and in the sustainable harvesting of our forests. We produce timber for some of the most beautiful and sustainable furniture that one could possibly imagine—Mike MacKenzie alluded to that, too. Some of the furniture, houses and objects that are made by our most talented craftspeople are priceless objects without compare.

In recent times we have had outbreaks of ash dieback and dothistroma needle blight, which have raised awareness of the fragility and importance of our trees and forests, and of the need for safe, sustainable and sensible management and commercial practice. As a member of the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee, I would like to highlight concerns that have been raised with me about threats to our forests and woodlands from large-scale biomass energy. With a growing human population, tensions over land use will continue, so it is important that we put down markers and state our commitment to our woodland.

The state of the world’s natural forests is a matter of grave concern. Our native woodlands may be small in global terms, but they are distinctive and unique. Our old pinewoods are home to a distinctive range of native species. The “State of Nature” report that has just been published highlights the perilous state of many species, but there is hope. Awareness is increasing, and if we can increase awareness of the importance of our trees at garden level and at street level, and if we can have a renewed focus on and discussion of our trees, we can truly transform our neighbourhoods. Tourists flock to visit the Birnam oak and the Fortingall yew, as we have heard, and Commonwealth Orchard seeks to have fruit trees in all our streets.

Today, I have not focused on one tree—I am content to let the consultation take its course. However, if proclaiming a native tree as the national tree helps to protect and enhance interest in, and land devoted to, preserving and promoting biodiversity, I am more than happy to support the initiative.