How to pro­tect Scot­land’s beloved wood­lands

Topic of the week: our natural trea­sures

The Herald on Sunday - - EDITORIAL & LETTERS -

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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