John asks Comhairle to protect Isles’ few remaining trees

Tree at Loch Druidibeg, South Uist, by Molly Duker. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Tree at Loch Druidibeg, South Uist, by Molly Duker. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
John Finnie has written to the Chief Executive of the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, asking the council to use its powers to defend the Western Isles’ trees.

The islands’ natural condition is to be covered by forest, but deforestation by humans has led to the present environment, described by Scottish Natural Heritage as “generally treeless”.

Mr Finnie has asked the council to grant Tree Preservation Orders (TPOs) to the Western Isles’ remaining trees, to defend the those that still exist and provide a stable base for expanding woodland on the islands.

John said:

“Woodland is good for people, for wild plant and animal species, and for the rural economy. The Western Isles are one of the most deforested parts of Scotland, so it makes sense to use already existing powers to defend the remaining trees.

“Native woodland in the Western Isles is even more seriously threatened. The 2004 Native Woodlands Habitat Action Plan estimated that there was just 200 hectares of semi-natural woodland left on the islands, and set a target of ensuring no net loss in area or reduction in quality of these ecologically and historically precious areas.

“The rules for TPOs specify that the Order must protect either ‘amenity’ or trees of ‘cultural or historical significance’. Any further loss of trees on the islands would clearly be a blow to local people’s wellbeing – or ‘amenity’ – and there can be no doubt that our remaining native woodland is of both cultural and historical significance.”

John’s letter to the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar Chief Executive, Malcolm Burr, reads:

Dear Malcolm,

Thank you for your email of 24 August regarding Tree Preservation Orders (TPO).

I disagree that it is self-evident that a TPO protecting all of the Western Isles’ non-commercial trees would fail the tests set by statute.

From having been a substantially wooded archipelago when they were settled by humans after the last ice age, the Western Isles have become, in the words of Scottish Natural Heritage “generally treeless”.

Given the known positive social impact of trees, I would argue that the Isles’ treelessness is of sufficient concern that protecting what few trees remain is very much “expedient in the interest of amenity”.

The situation of native woodlands in particular is even more grave. In 2004, the Native Woodlands Habitat Action Plan estimated the area of semi-natural woodland in the Western Isles at just 200ha, and set a target of “ensur[ing] no net loss in area or reduction in quality of native woodlands. In this context, the remaining native woodland would seem to be of “cultural or historical significance”, and warrant protection via TPOs.

I am certain that the Planning Service is reactive and does take into account the amenity and historic value of trees when considering planning applications, but removal of trees in and of itself does not require planning permission. Without TPOs, the Council has no locus to intervene.

Given the precarious situation of woodland in the Western Isles, and the great importance of woodland to environmental and public health, I would be grateful if you would reconsider my proposal to make a Tree Preservation Order, or a number of contiguous Tree Preservation Orders, to defend the Western Isles’ non-commercial trees.

Kind regards

John Finnie MSP