News, stories and reports from Forestry Commission Scotland and the National Forest Estate

Why we use chemicals to protect young trees.

There’s been some media interest in the use of chemicals in forestry and in particular on the National Forest Estate.

We spoke to Jo Ellis, Forest Enterprise Scotland’s Acting Head of Land Management to find out a bit more about why, how and when chemicals are used to protect our young trees.

Why do you need to use chemicals for tree planting?

“It’s important that everyone understands that our default position on chemicals is very clear. We only use them when it is necessary.  

“We use the chemicals to control a pine weevil called Hylobius abietis which is the most serious threat to newly planted or naturally regenerating trees; if left untreated, the weevils will destroy on average around 50 per cent of them.

“Each year, the UK forestry industry loses around £5 million worth of trees to this weevil so it is a real problem.”

Are chemicals safe to use?

“The EU has one of the strictest regulatory systems in the world regarding the use of pesticides. All pesticides are thoroughly assessed to ensure a high level of protection for human, animal and environmental health. In March this year, the EU reviewed the use of acetamiprid (which we use to protect young trees) and approved its use up until 2033.”

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Is there an alternative to using chemicals?               

“We already use a good number of other treatment options but sometimes the use of acetamiprid is necessary. There has been some good news very recently though with Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing announcing £500,000 funding to explore other ways to tackle weevil damage – this could ultimately reduce the amount of chemicals used if we find other alternative treatments."

How do you use the chemical to protect young trees?

“We don’t blanket spray – when we use chemicals we use them in a very targeted way.

“Where pesticide use is necessary, our young trees are pre-treated in an off-site tree nursery or building, and this may be combined with later post planting treatment via a hand sprayer to individual trees. All these targeted treatments are carried out in a way that minimises any environmental impact.”

Who regulates the use of chemicals in the UK?

“It’s a job for the Health and Safety Executive – they are responsible for the regulation of chemicals in the UK. They set the limits of how much chemical can be used for each use whether it is for agricultural use or in forestry or even in your garden. We ensure that we are within these limits and that the treatments are carried out properly."

Do you always use chemicals out in the forest to treat young trees against weevils?

"No – not at all. You have to look at each restocking site on a case by case basis and judge whether weevils are likely to cause a major threat to the young trees. Many of our sites don’t need top up spraying.

“We wouldn’t use chemicals if we didn’t think it was necessary and the chemical we use has been safety tested by the EU and is regulated very tightly by the Health and Safety Executive.”