Scotland's Caledonian Forest undergoing a renaissance

Posted Mar 21, 2013 by Robert Myles
March 21 is the first United Nations International Day of Forests. In Scotland, conservation charity Trees for Life is stepping up efforts to get people involved in a renaissance of Scotland’s long beleaguered ancient Caledonian pine forest.
Glen Affric  Scotland - one of the areas where Trees for Life have an ongoing Caledonian Forest rege...
Glen Affric, Scotland - one of the areas where Trees for Life have an ongoing Caledonian Forest regeneration project
Trees for Life Press Release
Caledonian pine forest used to cover not just the Highlands of Scotland but much of the British Isles as trees re-colonised the landscape following the end of the last Ice Age. As the climate warmed, so the Caledonian Forest retreated northwards to its last outpost in the Scottish Highlands. At one time the native pinewoods which made up this boreal forest covered an estimated 15,000 km², a vast wilderness of temperate rainforest comprising a mix of Scots pine, birch, rowan, aspen, juniper, oak and related species.
Red Deer pictured near remnant of Caledonian Forest at Invercauld House near Braemar  Scotland. Pict...
Red Deer pictured near remnant of Caledonian Forest at Invercauld House near Braemar, Scotland. Picturesque but deer can be a threat to the establishment of Caledonian pinewoods by munching on newly germinated trees.
Wikimedia Commons
After centuries of de-forestation dating back to Roman times, about 150 years ago the Caledonian Forest reached a critical point of no return. Years of felling and forest clearance meant that too few trees remained. New growth was exposed to the predations of deer eating newly germinated seedlings. Young trees had virtually no chance of re-establishing the forest. The effect was to produce ‘geriatric’ pockets of the remaining Caledonian Forest consisting of old trees nearing the end of their lives.
This resulted in only a fraction of the former wilderness of the ancient Caledonian Forest surviving. Native pinewoods retreated to 35 isolated remnants making up less than 1% of the original forest, principally in pockets in the Western Highlands and in the Cairngorms National Park.
But steps are at last being taken to reverse the centuries-old trend of de-forestation and re-establish the ancient Caledonian Pine Forest as a unique ecosystem.
Trees for Life, a Scottish conservation charity tasked with claiming back areas of the Scottish Highlands for Caledonian Forest and associated wildlife, has welcomed the United Nations’ International Day of Forests campaign to give greater prominence to the role forests play in the environment. The charity is stepping up efforts to get more people involved in starting a renaissance of Scotland’s long beleaguered ancient Caledonian Forest.
Today, the inaugural International Day of Forests coincides with 2013 being designated the Year of Natural Scotland and is intended to celebrate and raise awareness of the vital role played by forests and trees for all life on Earth. In Scotland, a number of forestry restoration efforts are already underway.
Scotland’s ancient woodlands are being restored from Rassal Ashwood in Wester Ross, to the Carrifan Wildwood in Dumfries and Galloway in the south. In Lochaber in the west, the Loch Sunart Oakwoods are subject to a conservation project while in Cairngorms National Park, Abernethy and Glenfeshie are but two of the schemes in progress to restore native forest and woodlands.
Capercaillie or black grouse a species once common in the ancient Caledonian Forest
Capercaillie or black grouse a species once common in the ancient Caledonian Forest
Wikimedia Commons
Trees for Life is engaged restoring Caledonian forest as a haven for wildlife and native species in an area covering 1,000 square miles in the Highlands to the west of Loch Ness and Inverness. Yet, whilst there is optimism about the forest being re-established, threats remain. The past year has seen ash dieback becoming a major threat to native species, not just in Scotland but across the UK. Specific to that stalwart of the Caledonian forest, the Scots pine, Dothistroma Needle Blight remains a threat.
Faced with these biological threats and the more general ones of climate change, deforestation and biodiversity loss, Trees for Life is taking the opportunity which the International Day of Forests presents to call for greater concerted action to conserve and regenerate Scotland’s native woodlands.
In an appeal for more volunteers to assist with forest conservation projects, Trees for Life’s Executive Director, Alan Watson Featherstone said, “There are signs of hope for woodlands throughout Scotland, but we urgently need more people to help make a difference now – the future of Scotland’s forests is literally in our hands. We are the last generation with the opportunity to save the Caledonian Forest, for example, as many of the remnants of this Scottish equivalent of the rainforests are in terminal decline. Fortunately projects such as ours provide an inspiring and practical way for people from all walks of life to help make a personal and positive difference – to help restore natural wonders such as the Caledonian Forest and to reverse the global trend of deforestation.”
To mark 2013, Year of Natural Scotland, Trees for Life will be:
• Working to double the rate of restoration work in the Caledonian Forest.
• Running a ‘Million More Trees’ campaign – an ambitious plan to establish a further million trees by planting and natural regeneration by 2017.
• Expanding the organisation’s Conservation Weeks which offer opportunities for people to make a personal contribution to the environment and to gain hands-on conservation experience. Conservation weeks are held in eight locations across the Scottish Highlands, in a season starting this week and continuing till November.
• Launching Wildlife Weeks intended for conservation volunteers wanting to observe and learn more about the Caledonian Forest’s remarkable wildlife.
• Running fortnightly Conservation Days encouraging local people to take practical action
• Thanks to a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Trees for Life will be enabling disadvantaged volunteers from diverse backgrounds, including older people and those who are unemployed or on low incomes, to help directly in forest restoration work
Trees for Life is always keen to hear from volunteers to assist with restoration of the Caledonian Forest. More information on volunteering, contributing and conservation holidays can be found on the Trees for Life website.
Related article: 'Lost world' of eight new species discovered near Loch Ness