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Modelling scenarios for woodland expansion in Scotland

Home research Modelling scenarios for woodland expansion in Scotland

UK environmental policy aspires to balance multiple benefits and plant more trees whilst also respecting the values of other types of habitats and land uses. However, there is uncertainty as to how to best achieve this balance.

This research project, hosted between the University of Edinburgh and Forest Research, aimed to tackle this dilemma  by examining organisational views on woodland expansion in Scotland and capturing this information in a computer model so that alternative visions for woodland expansion could be explored. Such models don’t intend to predict the future, but instead show potential options and effects, and may provide guides and testing grounds for decision making.  

Research objectives

– To represent alternative scenarios, or 'visions' (positive descriptions of ideal futures) within a spatial model representing the environment of Scotland and associated land managers

– To explore the effect of these alternative scenarios on ecosystem service provision and the potential to meet woodland cover targets

– To explore the effect of different policy and governance mechanisms on encouraging woodland creation

Findings and Recommendations

Five visions (positive descriptions of ideal futures) were developed in collaboration with stakeholders . These were then simulated within CRAFTY-Scotland, an agent-based model of land use change. The model results show that increasing woodland cover in Scotland could be beneficial in many ways, providing more timber, carbon storage, reducing flood risk, and offering new opportunities for land-based employment but may also impact on the extent of open habitats, and some forms of farming and associated livelihoods.

Two of the modelled visions meet the Scottish Government targets of 21% woodland cover by 2032 and 25% by 2050. These visions had very different emphases, showing that there are alternative pathways to achieving targets. The Woodland Culture vision achieves sustained increases in woodland cover, describing a future with a much greater variety of types of land managers and land uses, as well as increased resources and funding for local communities to manage their own land. Alternatively, the Green Gold vision prioritised targeted funding to incentivise productive conifers. Both storylines also envisioned a decline in support for subsidised agriculture in marginal areas. Without this decline, visions with other mechanisms (e.g. funding for agroforestry in Multiple Benefits and funding for connectivity in Native Networks) struggle to meet targets.

The modelling suggested several issues that need to be addressed in order to deliver woodland expansion targets. These included subsidised marginal agriculture in Less Favoured Areas (LFAs) and the attitudes of some land managers where large areas of single-use land use are maintained.

In particular, landowner attitudes appear to be a key barrier to the ability of Wild Woodlands to meet targets. To help encourage and enable woodland creation in Scotland, future policies could aim to address such barriers, encouraging diversification of land management and looking into alternative forms of support for land managers in LFAs.

The modelling suggests that the type of land ownership does not affect benefit provision and likelihood of achieving targets per se, but that the type of land management does. All ownership models can contribute to woodland expansion targets, provided that there is a focus on diverse land management and a recognition of the many benefits that different types of woodland can provide. Overall, the research has provided a new method which may help researchers and decision makers to explore the effects of increasing woodland cover and test the impact of different mechanisms intended to encourage planting. By incorporating the objectives of many different land manager types, the model gives a more realistic idea of what may be possible in terms of the location of new woodland, and the benefits it could provide.

Research Status

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Understanding stakeholder visions for woodland expansion in Scotland

The development of stakeholder visions for woodland expansion in Scotland from analysing organisational documents, workshops and interviews.

Status completed