Environmental experts are warning a “barrage” of threats could have “catastrophic consequences” for Scotland’s forests.
The Woodland Trust has published a major report warning the country’s rare rainforests – and the wildlife living there – are “especially” in danger.
It said they are suffering a “multiple whammy” of major threats, with just 30,000 hectares remaining – much of it in the north-west.
Less than one-third of the vital landscape is said to be in a satisfactory condition, in the face of hazards including climate change, direct loss of trees, disease and pollution, combined with the slow rate of further expansion.
And the trust has warned that without action many species could be lost – and the UK’s ability to play a role in curbing climate change severely restricted.
‘Rare and dwindling’ Scottish rainforests at risk
Scotland’s rainforests are made up of oak, ash, birch, pine and hazel woodlands on the west coast of the country.
They comprise just 2% of all forest cover, but are considered “internationally important” for the “sheer abundance and diversity” of species found there, including some of the world’s rarest lichens and mosses.
The rainforests are situated over five areas near Crinan, Spean Bridge, Strathcarron, Oban and Uig.
But with the warning signs “loud and clear” over their future, Woodland Trust Scotland has launched a manifesto for the upcoming Scottish elections.
It is calling for an array of policies including the doubling of native woodland by 2050 and protecting ancient trees from destruction.
Arina Russell, Woodland Trust Scotland’s public affairs manager, said: “Native woodland must be a major part of woodland expansion, to help nature recover.
“We need more native woodland connecting and expanding existing woods and replacing lost trees outside woods.
“Woods and trees offer solutions to some of the most pressing problems facing our society.
“Good stewardship of the nation’s native woodlands will reap huge rewards.
“But the needs of our woods and trees must be in the minds of the next government.”
Warning signs ‘loud and clear’
The organisation’s new report, The State Of The UK’s Woods And Trees 2021, is the first of its kind to be published.
Its findings reveal that, across the country, just 7% of native woodland is in good condition and around half of ancient woodlands have been damaged by commercial forestry or soaring numbers of rhododendrons – a fast-growing invasive species.
Populations of some rare butterflies and bugs are in “steep decline,” with sightings of woodland birds down 80% since 1970.
The organisation does say that, since 2000, around 290,000 hectares of new woodland have been created throughout the UK.
But it believes this rate of expansion must be faster – with at least 600,000 hectares required within the next 20 years.
Abi Bunker, Woodland Trust director of conservation, said: “The warning signs in this report are loud and clear.
“If we don’t tackle the threats facing our woods and trees, we will severely damage the UK’s ability to address the climate and nature crises.
“Our wildlife havens are suffering and we are storing up problems for future generations.
“The first step is setting legally binding targets for the recovery of nature, including our precious and irreplaceable ancient woodlands and trees.
“The Government’s new environment bill must provide the foundation for ambitious, effective and well-funded woodland policies and grants so that landowners and communities can protect, restore and create wildlife-rich, healthy wooded and treed landscapes in towns, cities and the wider countryside.
“There is no success in hitting creation targets if our existing woods and trees are struggling and in decline.”