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The search for Scotland’s ancient pinewoods

A new project is seeking out the last remnants of Scotland's ancient pinewoods so they can be saved and restored

Trees for Life and Woodland Trust Scotland have begun a project to discover the lost pinewoods of Scotland before they disappear.

The Wild Pine Project is a joint initiative by Trees for Life and Woodland Trust Scotland to locate and preserve the long-neglected pinewoods, starting with those in the western Highlands. These pinewoods are a crucial part of Scotland’s rare temperate rainforest. Unfortunately, wild pinewoods have decreased over the years, and their restoration is frequently impeded by overgrazing by herbivores.

The Caledonian pinewoods are a globally unique ecosystem that supports rare wildlife such as red squirrels, capercaillies, and crossbills. However, less than 2% of the Caledonian forest, which once covered much of the Highlands, remains today. Only 84 individual Caledonian pinewoods are currently recognized, with the last documentation being over 25 years ago. Nevertheless, the Woodland Trust Scotland and Trees for Life have discovered other lost wild pinewoods, and there are indications from historical documents and anecdotal reports that more may exist.

Jane Sayers, Wild Pine Project Officer said: “Lost pinewoods are at particular risk because they are unrecognised and undocumented. We want to find them, assess their condition, and revive them before they are lost forever.”

“Finding these pinewoods requires a lot of detective work. They are often small and remote, hidden in ravines safe from deer. Pines, or their remains, are often found scattered among birchwood too.”

After identifying potential sites, the team will evaluate whether they are naturally occurring or artificially planted based on historical, ecological, and landscape evidence. Following this, the health and resilience of the discovered wild pinewoods will be evaluated. The charities involved will then work towards the recognition and restoration of these pinewoods, including presenting the findings to landowners and managers.

A recent study by Trees for Life, which investigated the health of 72 pinewoods, has revealed that many of them are in a precarious state. The study found that high deer numbers, non-native conifers, lack of long-term management, and climate breakdown are the major threats to their survival. The rewilding charity is urging the Scottish Government to take landscape-scale action to save the woodlands. This includes targeted funding for restoration and significant reductions in deer numbers to address nature and climate emergencies.

The new Wild Pine Project is funded by Woodland Trust Scotland, with support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery, and by Trees for Life, with support from the TreadRight Foundation.

Neil Ritchie
Neil Ritchie
Neil Ritchie is the founder and editor of ScottishHistory.org. Neil is also the editor of other online publications covering military history, defence and security. He can be found on Twitter: @NeilRitchie86.

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