While looking for information on "Why are some Scots Pines so twisted" I came across a great article which was the Inaugural Annual Lecture for the Royal Scottish Forestry Society.
This lecture by Professor T C Smout is seen as a prestigious event to mark the naming of Scotland’s national tree, which is expected to be Scots pine. Professor Smout is acknowledged as the leading history authority on people and forestry in Scotland so the lecture should be entertaining and educational. The lecture was held in the Budungo Lecture theatre, Edinburgh Zoo on Wednesday 19th March 2014
The lecture article is available for free download and I highly recommend reading it to anyone who is interested in the native nature of the UK and the Caledonian Forest in particular.
We celebrate the decision to make the Scots pine the national tree. No tree is more redolent of the Highlands or more lovely in its manner of growing in the glens. Yet there is an irony in the choice, as Pinus sylvestris (despite our name for it) is one of the most widely distributed trees on the globe, with a natural range that stretches across the northern hemisphere from China to Spain, and as far south as Turkey. Scotland is at the north-western extremity of its range, where it is more sensitive to climate change than most of our other native trees, and its range in our countryside has ebbed and flowed over millennia. If the choice is intended to illustrate gnarled and tough Scottish distinctiveness it is a poor one. If it was intended to show how to adapt and cling on in the face of adversity, it is quite a good one."
I tried to add the pdf on the site here but couldn't get it work. The summary of the summary of the lecture (as I read it) is that the Scots Pine dominated Caledonian Forest never really was that extensive and ebbs and flows with the climate. The blanket bog is the main climax vegetation for most of Scotland outside the fertile lowlands. The good agricultural land in the lowlands was pretty much fully cleared by the time the Romans arrived at the highlands in 84 AD.
Here is the final paragraph.
"I will conclude with an exhortation fitting for a national symbol. Let us value and preserve the natural character of the largest ancient forests that we have. Let us protect and pro-actively extend those which have become mere remnants. Let us also plant new pine woods where we would like to have them, for wildlife, for ornament or pleasure, even for profit. But let us not try to plant pine in wet and windy bogs and straths, on land that has been open for millennia and bears no trace of pine within the last few thousand years. And let’s not pretend that we are restoring a lost Great Wood of Caledon or the Caledonian Forest as it existed 6000 years ago in a completely different context of history, soil and climate. We should be planting new pine woods or extending existing ones not out of nostalgia for some dubious myth, or because we fancy that we owe the past reparation for earlier destruction, but because we are lovers of Scotland and of Scots pine, modern improvers, who choose to treasure the pinewood ecosystem and relish the sight and smell of the woods today. That should be enough."
The scenes above are the climax vegetation (the "natural" state) of most of Highland Scotland - humps of moss and heather - bilberries, willow with Scots pines, alders and Birch off in the background scattered mini forests on some of the drier more sheltered areas. Most of the place should be covered with hummocks that look like those below - soft, strong and very very wet.
That is a bit of a revealtion to me and definitely one to be kept in mind when writing this next book.