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.