THIS week, parliamentarians will gather in Holyrood to debate the future of a species of tree which is one of the most beautiful in the world, and which constitutes a rich part of Scotland’s natural and cultural heritage.

Due on Wednesday, this debate in the Scottish Parliament is timely in two ways. On the one hand, it will mark and celebrate the 10th anniversary, on January 29, of the tree in question – the Scots pine – becoming Scotland’s national tree, following a public vote.

On the other hand, the future of Scotland’s globally important Caledonian pinewoods is at risk. Urgent, serious upscaling of political and public action is needed to save them. The parliamentary debate will spotlight Scotland’s special responsibility to protect and restore the pinewoods and the rare Atlantic temperate rainforest on the country’s west coast.

In the UK, the Scots pine – the only tree named after Scotland, and more formally known as Pinus sylvestris – only grows naturally in the Scottish Highlands, where it is the largest and longest-lived tree in the Caledonian forest. This remarkable tree forms the “backbone” of the forest ecosystem on which many other species depend.

The resulting Caledonian pinewoods are a habitat which is globally unique, and one of the richest in Scotland. These woodlands are home to some of Scotland’s most iconic wildlife – including capercaillie, crested tit, red squirrel and wildcat – and rare species like pine hoverfly and twinflower.

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These precious pinewoods are steeped in myth and legend and enjoy strong associations with Gaelic culture. The Gaelic word for pine is “giuthas”, found in place names such as Kingussie and Dalguise.

The wood of the Scots pine has a high resin content, which is why Gaels used it for candles, often lit at weddings or following childbirth. In Glenmoriston – the location of Trees for Life’s rewilding centre at Dundreggan – pine candles were preferred to those made of animal fat. Gaelic history records this by describing the glen as “gentle Glenmoriston, where the dogs don’t eat the candles”.

The Scots pine can live for at least 500 years, with those more than three centuries old being known as “Granny pines”. Such ancient trees are very different from the tall, straight Scots pine you might see in a plantation where they are grown for timber – they have many branches, and often lots of dead wood which supports rare insects and other creatures.

Declaring the Scots pine as a national symbol a decade ago sent a signal that Scotland valued the tree as an important part of its character, culture and identity.

So it is fitting that our parliamentarians will now meet to celebrate the 10th anniversary of that declaration, and recognise the huge work carried out by charities, landowners, communities and government agencies – from the Borders to the Islands, from cities to remote mountain tops – to conserve and restore our native trees and woodlands.

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This work is hugely important. There is much evidence that spending time in woodland brings many benefits for our mental health and wellbeing. Not only that, but trees lock away carbon – helping with the climate crisis – while native trees are a boon for biodiversity.

Conservation and rewilding action is also vital because we need to make up for the centuries of destruction and over-exploitation of native woodland which today has left us with less than 2% of the original 1.5 million hectares of Caledonian pinewood surviving, much of it in scattered fragments. Even much of the little currently remaining is on its last legs, often due to Scotland’s artificially large numbers of deer grazing on young saplings.

In a healthy forest ecosystem, deer numbers would be in balance with regenerating trees. However, too many deer eating too many trees is a key threat to the Caledonian pinewoods because it prevents them from naturally regenerating.

This means that many Granny pines could be the last in a succession of pines dating back to the last ice age. But solutions, both short and long-term, are there.

Fencing to exclude deer is only a temporary fix, but for now – until effective landscape-scale deer management can be properly established – it’s a key way of giving the old Granny pines the chance to set seed successfully and ensure a healthy population of new trees.

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In Glen Loyne, for example, this has recently saved a remote pinewood – home to Scotland’s oldest wild Scots pine, which is at least 565 years old – from being lost forever. Trees for Life carried out this work as part of Affric Highlands, the UK’s largest rewilding initiative, which we lead together with Rewilding Europe.

Dramatically reducing deer numbers, meanwhile, can enable a whole new forest to naturally regenerate quickly, as superbly demonstrated in Glen Feshie in the Cairngorms.

The last part of the jigsaw in saving our Caledonian pinewoods is the removal of invasive non-native species. This includes the rhododendron that literally chokes the life out of native woodlands, and Sitka spruce, whose seeds often rain down on Caledonian pinewoods from nearby plantations – resulting in spruce trees replacing the native Scots pines.

After an extensive four-year study of Scotland’s last remaining Caledonian pinewood fragments, Trees for Life concluded that many of them could be gone in a generation if concerted action is not taken by charities, landowners and government to restore them.

We know we have to fence around the Granny pines, reduce deer, and remove invasive species. We know the significant contribution native pinewoods can make to tackling the overlapping climate and nature emergencies. We also know the special place pinewoods have in Scotland’s history and culture.

The Scottish Government has already committed to protect and restore the Caledonian pinewoods by 2026 – but the big question is, will ministers deliver? Does Scotland have the will and determination to put in the effort required before it is too late? Or will a future anniversary of the Scots pine becoming our national tree be more of a wake than a celebration?

Steve Micklewright is the chief executive of Trees for Life,