Only a fraction of Scottish forests felled to make way for wind farms have been replanted, figures show, sparking calls for a ban on new developments.
Forestry Commission statistics reveal that about five million trees – almost one for every person in Scotland – have been cut down to clear space for turbines in the past six years but less than a third of them have been replaced.
Of the 2,510 hectares stripped of woodland to make way for turbines since 2007, just 792 hectares were reforested after construction was completed.
The Scottish Conservatives, who obtained the figures through a Freedom of Information request, claimed the figures are evidence that the Scottish Government is “destroying nature” in a bid to meet its own climate targets, which aim for all the country’s electricity to come from renewable sources by 2020.
MSP Murdo Fraser, energy spokesman for the party, said: “The SNP is so blindly obsessed with renewable energy that it doesn’t mind destroying another important environmental attribute to make way for it.
“It’s quite astonishing to see almost as many trees have been destroyed as there are people in Scotland.”
The government has hit back at the claims, saying the figures do not represent the full picture.
Environment and climate change minister Paul Wheelhouse said: “We have replanted nearly 800 hectares and have restored significant areas of important open habitat where this is best for the environment. The result is that, of the area felled for wind farms, only 315 hectares of land suitable for another rotation of trees has not been replanted.”
He also pointed out that 31,400 hectares of new forestry was planted around the country in the same six-year period. “That’s a staggering 62 million trees in the ground across Scotland,” he said.
“Scotland is also shouldering the vast majority of tree-planting in Britain, with nearly two and a half times more in Scotland compared to south of the Border.”
Mr Fraser, who has previously voiced his opposition to wind farms, is calling for a year-long moratorium on planning applications for new developments.
The regional MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife said: “The contribution of trees to our environment has been well established through the ages.
“I’m still waiting to see compelling evidence of the contribution wind farms make. They are an expensive, intermittent and unreliable alternative, and not one that it’s worth making this level of sacrifice to accommodate.
“If the Scottish Government cooled its ludicrous renewable energy targets, we wouldn’t see this kind of wanton destruction and intrusion on our landscape.”
Mr Wheelhouse defended Scotland’s planning rules, which he said require developers to plant new trees to replace any cut down to make way for wind farms.
He added: “It was the Scottish Government that took a proactive role in protecting Scotland’s forests and woodlands. In 2009, we tightened up the guidance around felling from wind farm developments.
“A key component is to keep any felling to a minimum and compensatory planting undertaken where suitable. Every energy company building wind farms has to comply with this policy. All renewable developments are subject to environmental scrutiny through the planning process and this manages any impacts on the natural environment, landscape and communities.”
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