I thank Joan McAlpine for securing this debate on what is an interesting proposal. I must also apologise to her and the chamber, as other business requires me to leave after I have made my speech.
I, too, recognise the hard work and commitment of my constituent Alex Hamilton who, with the help of many of the organisations mentioned already, has championed the issue through the processes of the Public Petitions Committee and whose determination will, I hope, bear fruit. Sadly, Mr Hamilton cannot be with us today because, ironically, he is on one of the few places in Scotland without any trees at all: the island of St Kilda.
I have to say to Joan McAlpine that we on this side of the chamber are perhaps not as surprised as she is to find that a decision on the national tree of Scotland must await the referendum’s outcome. Doesn’t everything these days? In any case, given that Scotland has a national flower, why should it not have a national tree? Seventy other countries have already adopted a national tree, and some have even emblazoned it on their national flag.
We are a country proud of and famed for our natural heritage, and our scenery helps to promote Scotland as a tourism destination. Indeed, it is always one of the first things that people from overseas remark on when we say that we come from Scotland. As our fame as an outdoor sports destination grows, that picture of Scotland grows in the memories and minds of those who have visited. It would be fitting if there were to be a tangible legacy from the year of natural Scotland in the form of a national tree. I sincerely hope that the Scottish Government will agree to formally recognise such an iconic image for our country.
While doing some research for the debate, I noted Wikipedia’s bold assertion that the Scots pine is the “national tree of Scotland”. We know that that is not quite true, but it is interesting that such an assumption has been made. Frankly, I think that it is understandable. If any tree can symbolise the vision of Scotland’s wild places that most people have, it must be the Scots pine. The fact that, as Joan McAlpine recognised, it comes in many sizes, shapes and colours perhaps chimes with our vision of a diverse Scotland in the modern world.
The pine would definitely be my choice for Scotland’s national tree. However, as Joan McAlpine again has made clear, it is also the choice of those who took part in the Woodland Trust’s online poll. Indeed, 66 per cent of those who participated opted for the Scots pine, with only 20 per cent choosing the next most popular—the rowan. It seems that the Scots pine is certainly the favourite for that iconic role, although I agree with the motion that public consultation should take place before any decision is made to award the accolade to a particular tree.
Deforestation over the years means that the Scots pine is not as common as it once was. Over the past 300 years in particular, swathes of the trees have been cleared to make way for crops. The tree was in great demand as a source of pit props for the mining industry and for other industrial purposes. It is a hardy tree that can be found in many countries in northern Europe, although it ventures as far south as Portugal. It has a lifespan of between 150 and 300 years, although I understand that there are specimens in Sweden that are believed to be 700 years old.
The Scots pine can be grown commercially, but it is also an important part of our ecosystem. Many plants, birds, animals and insects depend on it. Indeed, I am indebted to Mr Hamilton, who provided very interesting information in his petition about the Scottish crossbill, which is a bird that lives only in pine forests and feeds on the scales of the pine cone.
Whether or not the Scots pine is recognised as our national tree, I would argue that it is already an iconic symbol of our country. I hope that the Scottish Government recognises that and will give it the recognition that it deserves.