Sunday, 7 February 2010

Plant foreign trees 'to save our forests'
Published Date: 07 February 2010
By Jenny Fyall
SCOTTISH forests should be replanted with Lebanon cedars, Italian elders and Macedonian pines and not native species, according to a leading expert in a Forestry Commission study.
The imported trees must form a vital part of a dramatic expansion of tree cover as global warming changes the Scottish environment, says Professor Sir David Read.Wet climate species such as Scots pines and native oaks could struggle to grow as temperatures increase and the environment becomes drier, suggests Read, a former vice-president of the Royal Society, in a report for the Forestry Commission.He is now calling for trials of more exotic species from southern Europe to see which would thrive best in a changing Scottish landscape.But his suggestions have been condemned by the Woodland Trust for Scotland, which believes the focus should remain on planting new native woodland using traditional species.Read, also Emeritus Professor of Plant Sciences at the University of Sheffield, said he believed a huge expansion in new forestry planting each year in Scotland was necessary to help soak up carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming.Under current government plans, the commission will increase tree cover in Scotland by up to 10,000 hectares a year.But, according to Read, Scotland's emptier countryside could cope with an additional 25,000 hectares a year – about the size of the Queen's Balmoral estate on Deeside – increasing total forest cover and reducing the amount of CO2 escaping into the atmosphere.In Combating Climate Change: A Role For UK Forests, the first national study of its kind in the world, Read says: "In replanting, the preference for use of native tree species under all circumstances will need to be reconsidered."An increased frequency and severity of summer drought is likely to represent the most immediate threat to UK woodlands from the changing climate. "A list of about 50 species that could be suitable to replace native species is listed in the report and includes Lebanon cedar, Oriental spruce, Macedonian pine, Greek fir, Mexican white pine, Italian alder, Shagbark hickory, Oriental beech, Eucalyptus and Hungarian oak.The report advises that a 4 per cent increase in tree cover over the next 40 years would help lock up 10 per cent of the country's carbon emissions. Trees currently cover 17 per cent of Scotland, but the Forestry Commission hopes to increase the figure to at least 25 per cent. Bob McIntosh, the director of FC Scotland, agreed there was a need to move species "from south to north" to cope with climate change. However, he added: "There will still be a hope that we can use our native species as widely as possible."But Angus Yarwood, policy and campaigns officer for the Woodland Trust for Scotland, said it would not support large-scale planting of foreign species."We would be very concerned about wide-scale planting of non-native species," Yarwood said. "If you were to plant lots of non-native species then you are not allowing the wildlife and habitats native to the UK to be best placed to adapt to climate change."BRANCHING OUT• LEBANON CEDAR is the national emblem of Lebanon, but as a result of long exploitation, very few old trees remain in their native land, and there is now an active programme to conserve and regenerate the forests.The Lebanon Cedar is widely planted as an ornamental tree in parks and gardens and the most prominent landscaping feature in London's Highgate Cemetery is its "Circle of Lebanon".• MACEDONIAN PINE ranges from the mountains of western Bulgaria through Albania, and the extreme southwest of Serbia, to the extreme north of Greece and often reaches the alpine tree line in this area. The mature tree is very resistant to White Pine Blister Rust a fungal disease accidentally introduced from Europe into North America, where it has decimated American native white pines. Macedonian Pine is therefore of great value for research into hybridisation and genetic modification to develop rust resistance in these species.• ITALIAN ELDER is a pretty, fast-growing egg-shaped tree and at a distance, bears more resemblance to a pear tree than to the other members of the elder family.The tree is able to fix nitrogen from the air and thrives on much drier soils than most other elders, growing rapidly even under very unfavourable circumstances. This renders it extremely valuable for landscape planting on difficult sites such as mining spoil heaps and heavily compacted urban sites