Forestry & Land Scotland’s (FLS) Newton Nursery marks its 90th anniversary this year and will double in size, boosting overall capacity within Scotland’s tree nursery sector which is essential to delivering Scotland’s Climate Emergency response.
Newton nursery currently grows seven million of the 25 million trees that FLS plants in Scotland each year.
By leasing a further 70 hectares of land – and with financial support from Scottish Government – to deliver the biggest, single infrastructure investment ever by FLS, Newton nursery will effectively double capacity by 2025, allowing it to produce around 14 million trees a year.
The expansion will provide more trees to support Scotland’s ambitious tree planting targets while also providing FLS with greater self-sufficiency.
This will include the growing of well-known conifer species such as Lodgepole pine, Scots pine, Sitka and Norway spruce alongside a move towards a greater use of other alternative conifer and broadleaf species to provide greater diversity and build resilience.
The stock produced will be planted out into existing forests all over Scotland as older trees are felled and to create new forests of the future, for people to enjoy.
Set up in 1931 near Elgin to grow trees for what was the Forestry Commission, Newton is now the only public state-managed tree nursery in Scotland and employs 24 people locally.
Over its 90 years, the nursery has helped to improve and refine Scotland’s tree stocks.
Most of the seeds used at Newton are sourced from the FLS managed estate.
Seeds are harvested from specially selected stands or from seed orchards created for superior form, straightness and fine branching; specialised grafting programmes select the very best material.
Newton also produces stock grown from seeds collected at various native pinewoods, representing some of the country’s oldest wildlands such as Scots Pine seeds, collected from Rannoch Moor.
These seeds are then grown at Newton and will become part of FLS’s reforestation and habitat preservation activities.
Aspen, one of the lesser known species in the Caledonian forest – but a tree which is ecologically very important – last enjoyed a rare, prolific flowering season in the Highlands in 2019.
Newton has propagated these Aspen seeds and will send out the young trees produced from them to customers next year.
In the case of Sitka Spruce – the species that now comprises just over half (56%) of the conifers in FLS managed forests – careful seed selection and tree breeding has shaved around 10 years off the average ‘rotation’ length.
This means the time interval between planting out a seedling and harvesting a mature tree for timber has been cut from 40 years to 25/30 years.
Through genetic improvement and tree breeding it is hoped that such success can be replicated with other tree species for example, Norway spruce.
Climate change and warmer temperatures mean that Scotland is becoming a more compatible environment for trees like Norway spruce, as well as other conifers such as Western Red Cedar and Sequoia, Coast redwood and Macedonian pine that will thrive in our changing climate while reducing exposure to pests and diseases.
Speaking about the nursery’s expansion and the anniversary, Alan Duncan, FLS’s Head of Plant & Seed Supply, who has worked at the nursery for 44 years, said:
“Innovation and experimentation are part and parcel of the nursery’s planning for the forests of the future.
“Forestry is a long-term proposition: most productive forestry has a lead time of around 40 years. Scots pine can take 80 years to reach maturity, while oaks can take 80-120 years.
“We are already seeing climate change happening, so we need to grow – and plant – new forests now, to increase woodland cover and most importantly, to help mitigate global warming.
This includes developing new techniques for growing, planting and harvesting trees and looking at tree species that will likely thrive in a warming climate.”
Newton Nursery invests significantly in research including work on organic seed coatings which have the potential to save 50 litres of water per seed planted and help with drought resistance.
Trials of experimental planting at Newton using TreeTape [see note 4] are already underway.
This can allow up to 1 million tree seedlings to be planted in a single day.
These trials have delivered positive results to-date, with higher germination rates and faster, stronger growth of seedlings.
Looking ahead, Newton Nursery is considering other ways to increase yields and grow more trees.