Help solve the problem of Scotland’s wasted tree seeds

Meeting the challenges of growing more young trees from seed will significantly strengthen Scotland’s contribution to tackling the climate emergency.

That’s the premise behind a new Scottish Government ‘Innovation Challenge’ offering research and development funding for ideas to improve the yield from Scotland’s existing seed stock.

Forestry and Land Scotland has set out the challenge, which is open to individuals, businesses, universities and stakeholders. Any identified solutions to the challenge will benefit both public and private sector tree nurseries.

Doug Knox, for Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS), said: “Everyone knows that planting trees is probably the simplest, most effective method we have of tackling the global climate emergency through the transformation of greenhouse gases in to solid, sustainable and renewable materials for construction and manufacturing.

“The demand for young trees in Scotland in 2019 was more than double what it was a decade ago. We will have to double it again within five years if we are to meet our climate change action plan commitments. And the Committee on Climate Change has called for the amount of tree planting to increase even further.

“But growing trees is actually a tricky business, especially in the early stages. Most tree species used in forestry are ‘masting’ species, producing good seed crops in certain years with low levels or no seed at all in intervening years.

“As much as two thirds of that available seed can be lost through predation, weed competition, drought or simply a failure to germinate. That’s a substantial loss of viable material so finding ways of meeting any or all of those challenges would greatly improve on the number of saleable tree seedlings that are grown.”

The loss is also substantial economic hit too – in one year, a tree nursery might invest £100,000 in tree seed and one kg of Sitka spruce seed (approx. £1600) has the potential to produce up to 330,000 seedlings.

However, despite a nursery’s best professional care and handling of the seeds, natural processes and phenomena can mean that only 110,000 viable seedlings might leave the nursery as young trees for planting in Scotland.

The Challenge aims to encourage the development of low-cost, non-labour intensive technologies that will minimise losses and maximise on the number of saleable seedlings of any commercial tree species grown by FLS.

Applicants can address the issue from any angle, looking at processing techniques, seed protection – before, during and after planting – or sowing and growing techniques. Solutions might involve automation, robotics, imaging technology and physical or chemical treatments. The closing date for applications via the Public Contracts Scotland portal is the 21st of August 2019.

Doug added: “As well as being vital to Scotland’s effort against the climate emergency, improvements in yield would help ensure security of future timber supply for Scotland’s thriving £1bn forestry industry and its contribution to Scotland’s economy.”

As well as benefiting the UK’s nursery sector, a proven solution could also find potential markets in other countries that practice a style of forestry similar to the UK – such as Norway, Sweden, France, Denmark, the Netherlands and Canada.

Any good idea, from anyone, will be given a hearing.

Up to ten successful applicants will be awarded £3,000 +VAT to develop a comprehensive product design and development plan, and will be given support to turn their idea into a workable, commercially viable product.

A further £20,000 +VAT will be made available to the most promising plans for five months of laboratory or workshop testing to create a prototype, with the top prototypes then being awarded contracts worth up to £220,000 +VAT to carry out field testing for up to three years.

At the end of that period there will be a commercial tendering opportunity where FLS will seek to purchase the solution that best meets it’s needs available on the market.

A ‘bidder day’ familiarisation day will be held at FLS’s own tree nursery and current processes. This will take place at Newton Nursery by Elgin (IV30 8XR) between 14:00 and 16:00 on Monday the 12th of August 2019. Anyone wishing to attend should contact Melanie.Mathiasen@forestryandland.gov.scot to book a place.

Questions asked on the day will have answers written up and published on PCST so that all potential bidders can see these even if they are unable to attend this event in person.