AN "ambitious plan" to plant millions of trees across the Forth Valley has been praised by the Scotland's forestry secretary during a visit to the University of Stirling.

Mairi Gougeon said the Forth Climate Forest will tackle climate change and improve the lives of people in Stirling, Clackmannanshire and Falkirk.

The University-led initiative will see 16 million trees planted over the next decade to help prevent the extremes of flooding and temperatures, purify our air and absorb carbon from the atmosphere, delivering long-term ecological, climate and social benefits.

Trees will be planted in school grounds, on vacant and derelict land, and across parks. Existing woodlands will be stitched together, where possible, to create wildlife corridors that boost biodiversity, offering a safe habitat for birds, bats, bees and all manner of woodland animals.

Mairi Gougeon, whose brief as rural affairs secretary includes forestry, said: “The important woodland work will involve communities, boost tree cover in the region, connect the network of native woodlands and increase the opportunities for carbon sequestration.

“I am very pleased that the project will expand woodland greenspace in areas of higher deprivation and at risk from the impacts of climate change." 

During her visit to the university, Ms Gougeon attended a reception event for Forth Climate Forest stakeholders, including joint funders Woodland Trust Scotland, Scottish Forestry, Clackmannanshire Council, Falkirk Council and Stirling Council.

Director of Forth Climate Forest, Doug Worrall, said: “We were delighted to welcome the Cabinet Secretary to the University of Stirling to join our discussion about how the Forth Climate Forest will help communities adapt to the effects of climate change, create places where wildlife can thrive and make a significant contribution towards the Scottish Government’s national tree-planting targets." 

The first trees were planted in Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park at Glen Finglas near Brig o’Turk on November 27 last year, the first day of National Tree Week 2023. In the course of the week, trees were also planted by local authority leaders in Stirling, Clackmannanshire and Falkirk.

Ms Gougeon's visit came amid a time of mounting criticism from forestry leaders over a decision to cut £30 million from Scottish Forestry's woodland creation budget for the year ahead. Confor and the Woodland Trust are among those to demand the move is reversed in a bid to address Scotland's recent planting slump

Last year, a little over 8,000 hectares of new woodland were created north of the border, the lowest level for half a decade. Ms Gougeon has already admitted that the new level of funding will only stretch to 9,000 ha, well short of the government's budget. 

More information about the initiative can be found at the University of Stirling website.