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A new effort has been launched to save ancient Scots Pines across the Highlands from becoming the last generation in a lineage of trees dating back to the last ice age.
Through its Caledonian Pinewood Recovery Project, the Trees for Life conservation charity wants to help restore 50 areas of remnant and neglected pinewoods – mainly made up of lone, ancient so-called ‘Granny’ pines which are more than 200 years old but dying as they stand, with no young trees to succeed them.
The fragments, scattered over a large area, face growing threats from overgrazing by deer, tree diseases and climate change, and are at risk of disappearing forever over the next few years. If they are allowed to die, the extraordinary wildlife dependent on them, including such crossbills and capercaillie, will be lost too.
Thanks to support from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Trees for Life has already raised £150,000 for the ambitious project. It now needs to raise at least £20,000 from the public to start the work.
Steve Micklewright, Trees for Life’s chief executive, says the Scots Pine is Scotland’s national tree and symbolizes the Caledonian Forest – but the last fragments of these ancient pinewoods are dying.
‘Without action, the chance to bring back the wild forest could slip away forever, with only the skeletons of these special trees revealing where a rich woodland once grew, he said.
‘We are determined to ensure these trees are not the last generation of Scots Pine.’
In total, only 42,000 acres of the original Caledonian pinewoods remain in 84 fragments, spread across a wide area from Loch Lomond, northwards to near Ullapool and eastwards to Glen Ferrick near Aberdeen.
Some of these have been largely restored but, based on a review of previous studies by Forestry Commission Scotland and the UK Government, Trees for Life believes that at least 50 are declining and could disappear within a generation. Where seeds manage to germinate, the resulting saplings are grazed and killed by deer.
The forest fragments are also isolated from each other, which is bad news for wildlife. Red squirrels can’t reach and colonise restored woodlands, while the rare capercaillie is rapidly declining in Scotland as there is too little connected forest to enable these birds to reach a stable population.
Funds will enable Trees for Life to produce detailed plans on how to save each remnant so that a new generation of Scots Pine can grow and to establish where pinewoods need to expand to survive changes caused by climate change.
Action will help ensure young Scots Pine trees are growing among the ‘Granny’ pines. This will provide a renewed forest that is more resilient to threats, with pinewood fragments successfully joined up – making them large enough to provide a good home for the unique wildlife only they can support.
2NO F39 Dead Scots pine, or snag, silhouetted against shafts of sunlight in the Highlands.