Native Scots pine trees can grow to 35 metres high and live for 700 years. They are not just part of our countryside and our environment, they are part of our culture and history.

Remnants of the ancient Caledonian pine forest, they connect us with the past and they help us cope with the present. Gnarled, knotty and majestic, they deserve our love and need our protection.

One of the most important bodies involved in looking after Scots pine is Forestry Commission Scotland, the country’s largest landowner and an arm of government. It is responsible for a major proportion of our precious wildlife, and for making thousands of visitors welcome.

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So it is distressing to learn, as we report today, that the commission’s environmental priorities may now be taking second place to commercial conifer plantations. A short term restructuring and a longer term reorganisation have both generated widespread fears that gains of recent years may be lost.

Instead of devoting time and expertise to conserving wildlife and enhancing recreation for public benefit, forestry officials may have to spend more effort planting and tending Sitka spruce, an alien blight on the landscape.

This is not a welcome prospect, and it deserves wider attention and debate. Maybe the intentions of the commission and ministers have been misunderstood, and the future won’t be as bad as some suggest. But we need to be sure. The commission’s restructuring proposals should be reconsidered, and ministers should listen to criticisms from across the board on its planned reorganisation.