IT is a scheme designed to increase biodiversity in Scotland and help to meet the country’s climate change targets.

The Scottish Government’s ambitious targets to create 12,000 to 15,000 hectares of new woodland annually until 2032 should offer many environmental benefits.

However, one wildlife charity has warned that not everyone will thrive under the plans.

Research by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) suggests that some birds - such as the melodious songbird Meadow Pipit - may lose out under the tree-planting exercise.

The study, published in the journal Biological Conservation, found that while native woodland plantations could have overall benefits for some breeding birds - care should be taken not to squeeze out important species that inhabit open ground.

Scientists have now warned of the need to plant “the right trees in the right places” - and that climate change initiatives may not be helping some species.

Dr David Douglas, lead author of the research said: “Creating native woodland on moorland should increase the overall number of bird species using these areas, but birds that are adapted to open ground are likely to lose out.

“We only studied native woodland but we know that in Scotland, a large amount of new woodland currently being created is commercial plantation forestry dominated by non-native species.

“We urgently need to understand where to place new woodland – whether native or non-native tree species - to minimise the impacts on important open ground biodiversity.”

The research looked at the breeding bird communities in native woodland plantations and nearby open moorland in Highland Perthshire.

Overall, more bird species were present in native woodland plantations relative to moorland and the number of species increased with the age, height and cover of the woodland present.

Many songbird species were also more common in woodland than on moorland, but the Meadow Pipit, which favours open moorland, is expected to lose out through woodland creation.

Meadow Pipits are of conservation concern due to population declines and are listed as globally “near-threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The UK supports globally important breeding populations of the Meadow Pipit and some other open-ground species including the Eurasian Curlew, so impacts from woodland creation on these species should be minimised.

Researchers concluded:”Native reforestation of open ground offers net gains in bird species richness but could dis-benefit open-ground birds including those of conservation concern.

“Where retention of open-ground species is desired, landscape-scale reforestation should consider both woodland and open-ground wildlife.”

The new research emphasizes that serious thought must be given to how to minimize impacts on open-ground biodiversity of high conservation importance.

The Scottish Government has set annual targets to create more woodland.

This has the potential to deliver on climate change and biodiversity targets, but a large proportion of this newly created woodland is comprised of non-native tree species.

RSPB Scotland’s Head of Land Use Policy Vicki Swales said:”Increasing the area of woodlands has a key part to play in helping Scotland’s wildlife as well as tackling climate change.

“Native woodlands can be a fantastic home for birds and many plants, insects and mammals. But this research shows that careful attention will have to be paid to what trees are planted and where; we need the right trees in the right places. For some of our most important birds maintaining open moorland and not planting trees there remains key.”

David Signorini, Chief Executive of Scottish Forestry, said they “wholeheartedly agree” with the RSPB’s findings.

He added: “This is why the Scotland’s Forestry Strategy, developed with input from a wide range of forestry interests, has sustainable forest management at its core, including an adherence to the principle of ‘the right tree, in the right place, for the right purpose’. This philosophy helped ensure that in 2018/19, as part of the overall 11,210 hectares of new woodland created in Scotland, 4,436 was native woodland.

“Better integration of forestry with other land uses and businesses will enable forestry in Scotland to continue delivering a wide range of economic, environmental and social benefits.”

(Article originally appeared in The Herald.)