LANDOWNERS should rip out Scotland’s heather moorland and replace them with forests, according to an English scientist.
Sir David Read, an emeritus professor of plant sciences at the University of Sheffield, claims the move would be better for the environment.
He says the moorland used for grouse shooting currently “make no realistic contribution” to the economy and replacing them with trees would “mop up” carbon.
He said much of the Scottish Highlands were now a “deforested desert” and that around 46% of the country was suitable for reforestation.
He said: “You think of Scotland as the land of bonnie purple heather.
That heather, apart from a few grouse, is pretty uneconomic, whereas if you can grow trees on it, [you] hugely increase the productivity of the land and get this valuable economic return in due course.
“Grouse shooting makes no realistic contribution to theUKeconomy. It’s a preferred benefit for a rather select few individuals who happen to be the owners of large tracts of unproductive land.
“Planting trees in an economic and biological context, that context being carbon dioxide sequestration, it is a far more preferable enterprise.”
He added that in Scotland trees are cut down faster than they are replaced and that urgent action was needed.
He claims that in 1976 59,000 acres a year was being planted but that this had fallen to 12,000 hectares by 2009.
However outraged landowners have called Read’s claims that grouse shooting is unprofitable “wildly inaccurate”.
They said that they support the expansion of forestry enterprises, but that grouse shooting raised millions for the economy.
They said that the recent season was one of the most successful in years and that a 2010 report by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust found that £23million is raise annually by the sport.
Additionally 1,072 full-time jobs are created by grouse shooting.
Robbie Douglas-Miller, who is chairman of Wildlife Estates Scotland and owner of the 3000-acre Horseupcleugh estate, near Duns in the Scottish Borders, said: “To say grouse shooting in not economically productive is wildly inaccurate. Many people come toScotlandto look at heather-clad hills, they do not want to see blanket forestry.
“I agree there’s plenty of scope to plant trees in Scotland but the blanket planting of sitka spruce on moorland, which was popular in the 1960s and 1970s, is not the way forward. It created vast tracts of woodlands which are effectively environmental deserts that destroy biodiversity.”
WhileScotlandhas a lower proportion of forested land than other European countries, the area given over to forests has increased in the last century.
In 1900 5% of land inScotlandwas forested, but by 2007 this had increased to 17%.
And Scottish ministers plan to cover a quarter of the country in trees by the 2050 by planting 37,000 acres of woodland every year.
It has been suggested that landowners could be offered grants to plant more trees, or that the government could provide subsidies if areas of land were handed over to private investors for forestry purposes.