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Adapting Scotland’s forests to climate change – findings and recommendations

Home Research Climate change adaptation Adapting Scotland’s forests to climate change – findings and recommendations

Key findings

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More frequent green-spruce aphid attacks may reduce growth in eastern and southern Scotland.
(Photo: Clive Carter)

  • The expected warmer climate will improve tree growth nationally, but particularly in southern and eastern Scotland. Productivity will increase generally, and this could be by 2 to 4 cubic metres per hectare per year (m3/ha/yr) for conifers on sites where water and nutrients are not limiting.
  • The climate of southern and eastern Scotland will be more favourable for growing high-quality broadleaved trees on suitable deep, fertile soils.
  • Droughty soils in eastern Scotland will become unfavourable for Sitka spruce and other drought-sensitive species.
  • Changes in the seasonal distribution of rainfall will cause more frequent summer drought and more frequent winter flooding.
  • Changes in the frequency of extreme winds will cause more wind damage. However wind scenarios have a high uncertainty attached.
  • Pest and disease ecology will change with the climate; for example, more frequent green-spruce aphid attacks may reduce growth in eastern and southern Scotland.
  • Scotland’s aspiration to expand woodland from 17% to 25% by 2050 provides an opportunity to target reforestation within habitat networks. This will reduce woodland fragmentation and thereby help improve the resilience of woodland ecosystems to climate change.

Emerging recommendations

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Forest nurseries in eastern Scotland will have to adapt to the drier summers, for example by using more irrigation.

  • Low-impact silvicultural systems (LISS) and the use of mixtures could provide the basis for adaptation strategies.
  • Where other management regimes are used, a wider range of species and a broader range of genetic material within a species will increase stand resilience in a changing climate.
  • Acceptance of natural colonisation of woodlands of non-native tree species may be a valid adaptation strategy, but this must be reviewed where conservation is a major objective.
  • Forest nurseries in eastern Scotland will have to adapt to the drier summers (for example by using more irrigation) and to wetter winters (for example by avoiding soil damage).
  • Contingency plans need to provide an adequate response to increasing risks of catastrophic wind damage, fire, and pest or disease outbreaks.
  • The upper wind exposure limit, defined in terms of the detailed aspect method of scoring (DAMS), for productive conifer plantations may need to be reduced.