A new report published by NatureScot, and written in partnership with the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, looked at the climatic range of native trees, in terms of rainfall and temperature, to identify the best places to protect their genetic diversity.
The key objective of genetic conservation is to ensure trees have the potential to adapt as conditions change, by maintaining their genetic diversity. Genetic diversity is the range of different inherited traits within a species. These traits are essential for resilience to pressures such as climate change and tree diseases.
A gene conservation unit (GCU) is a clearly mapped area of forest or woodland where dynamic gene conservation is one of the main management priorities for one or more tree species. This includes managing the trees to allow and encourage production of new seedlings and saplings.
There are currently five GCUs in Scotland, representing four species of tree: Scots pine, silver birch, sessile oak and rowan. The report adds seven species - alder, downy birch, hazel, ash, juniper, aspen and English oak.
The proposed GCUs are on areas owned and managed by a range of public, private and non-governmental organisations
Compatible with commercial land use, GCU status is a voluntary accreditation that recognises land managers’ commitment to promoting adaptation to future change through sustainable management of genetic diversity.
Jeanette Hall, NatureScot woodlands specialist, said: “The genetic diversity of wild species is now highly threatened . As genetic diversity diminishes, nature’s ability to adapt to climate change and resist disease is reduced, leading to population declines and ultimately, extinctions.
“These potential new units will be an important way for us to give biodiversity the resilience it needs to survive in a fast-changing world. We’re committed to preserving our native trees, and expanding GCUs in Scotland is part of our response to global call s to restore and enhance our natural world by preserving genetic diversity.”