Backlash over tree threat letter

Woodland Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Mountaineering Scotland said Scotland's "dramatic open views and vistas" could be threatened by plans to increase woodland cover

A group that represents climbers and hill walkers has experienced a backlash from its members over its objections to new forestry targets.

Mountaineering Scotland wrote a joint letter with the Scottish Gamekeepers Association.

It asked for upland moors to be protected from commercial tree-planting.

The letter to the environment secretary was prompted by the Scottish government's draft Climate Change Plan.

It sets a target of increasing forest cover from 17% to 25% of the land mass by 2050.

Following the letter, many Mountaineering Scotland members have said they support the planting of native species and describe the moorland as a man-made habitat.

Others have questioned the group's association with gamekeepers.

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption The Scottish government has committed to increasing the amount of woodland in Scotland

The outdoors writer and TV presenter Cameron McNeish wrote on Twitter: "Disagree with #Mountaineering Scotland over {the} issue of woodlands. Shocked they have got into bed with moorland owners.

"My own preference would be for reducing deer and sheep numbers to allow natural regeneration, not planting. Growth can be incredibly fast."

BBC Scotland revealed on Wednesday that the joint letter had been sent to the Scottish government.

The letter states: "Our concern is whether adequate weight is being given to the significant changes this will have on the landscape of Scotland and in particular the dramatic open views and vistas which have come to signify to the outside world that which is unique about our country."

Stronger stance

Responding to the criticism, chief executive David Gibson said: "Mountaineering Scotland welcomes the passion shown by our members and others but regrets that our position has been substantially misunderstood and has caused concern to members.

"The feedback has strengthened our resolve to take a stronger stance on conservation issues, including hill tracks and land management practices.

"Our collaboration with the Scottish Gamekeepers Association was on a single issue and does not indicate agreement with them on any other policy or issue."

Mountaineering Scotland, formerly the Mountaineering Council of Scotland (MCofS), issued a clarification on Thursday saying they were not opposed to the planting of native trees.

Outdoor writer Chris Townsend said: "Having read the clarification, I have to say as a member and an ex-president of the MCofS I think it's pathetic, disappointing and naive."

But Reforesting Scotland, a charity which promotes tree planting, backed the underlying call for a government policy on upland moors.

A spokesman told BBC Scotland: "Scotland's upland landscape is largely a man-made construct caused by deforestation and maintained that way through excessive grazing and burning for the benefit of a few.

"There is a need to protect areas of valuable moorland but not at the level it exists at present. The balance is wrong and we need to bring all interested parties together to decide where that new balance should lie."

Professor Dominick Spracklen, of the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds, said: "The distinction between plantation forestry and native woodlands is absolutely critical to this discussion - open, patchy native woodlands do not have the impact on "grand vistas" that dense plantation forestry does."

Citing Glen Affric, Glen Strathfarrar, Glen Feshie and Beinn Eighe, he added: "These are iconic landscapes - a mix of native trees, moorland and mountain - that are much more interesting than they would be if they had no trees. The clarification from the Mountaineering Council recognises this."

The Scottish government's draft Climate Change Plan includes planting more trees because forests can act as a carbon "sink", removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

A spokesman said: "The increased woodland creation targets announced by the Scottish government as part of its Climate Change Plan will be taken forward in a sustainable way, including working closely with a range of stakeholders.

"This will include appropriate consideration of Scotland's distinctive upland landscapes."

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