The Herald on Sunday

How to protect Scotland’s beloved woodlands

Topic of the week: our natural treasures


THE decline of Scotland’s natural habitats and wildlife continues (National crisis for Scotland’s natural treasures, News, May 15). One site of special scientific interest (SSSI) listed, the Birks of Aberfeldy, is a precious upland ashwood native remnant with associated gorge woodland, and adjacent birch, enjoyed by many people. Such gorge woodlands are among our richest native woodland remnants.

Unfortunat­ely, it is under threat from a particular invasive beech: a beautiful tree, welcome in the right place. However, it’s not a Scottish native, and in native woodlands it can spread steadily, casting heavy shade, resulting in loss of both regenerati­ng native trees and ground flora. Birch woodland remnants are also declining through mainly deer overgrazin­g.

For many years, the woodland owner – Perth and Kinross Council – has been aware of the steady spread of beech in particular, and its growing impact – and failed to do anything about it. On behalf of Scottish Native Woods, I was asked in the early 1990s by one of its countrysid­e rangers to advise on management. I suggested zoning, whereby in lower areas, where beech has completely taken over, it is retained, while further up the gorge it is phased out to halt further biodiversi­ty loss. This advice was not acted upon higher up in the council.

The council is failing in its “biodiversi­ty duty”. If it is not prepared to act responsibl­y to effectivel­y manage such a precious place, perhaps the Birks should be passed on to a voluntary conservati­on organisati­on – before it has to be renamed the “Beeches of Aberfeldy” and the immortal verse of Rabbie Burns sadly no longer applies. Alan Drever Aberfeldy

YOUR report highlights Sitka spruce as an invasive species in oak and ash woodland, and raised bog, when SNH’s own database identifies beech as a bigger threat to these woodlands, and birch and Scots pine in the case of raised bog. Sitka requires significan­t sunlight and would struggle to “invade” broadleave­d woodland. Modern, sustainabl­e forestry supports wildlife, for example, iconic species such as sea eagles and red squirrels. A large new planting scheme above Menstrie in Clackmanna­nshire has a plan to encourage more black grouse to the area.

Forestry provides leisure opportunit­ies and is now worth £1 billion to the Scottish economy, supporting more than 25,000 jobs. The spruce monocultur­es of the 1970s and 1980s are being replaced by modern forests with a wider range of species, designed to fit well into our landscapes. The timber grown provides high-quality homes and reduces our reliance on imports – the UK is the third-largest net importer in the world.

The sector is prepared to play its part to protect our national treasures. For that, we all need to focus on the real threats to those treasures and recognise the real benefits that Scotland’s modern forests provide. Stuart Goodall, chief executive Confor: Promoting forestry and wood

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