People and Woods in Scotland, (2003) Ed T C Smout, EUP About £20, paperback.
Chris Smout, with the aid of the Forestry Commission who commissioned the book, has brought together a group of contributors to produce a ‘must’ read for anyone working with woodlands in Scotland. Historians and the ‘lay’ reader will also be fascinated by their accounts.
The colonisation by trees of Scotland from the end of the last ice age is explored as is the way the dominant species moved principally in response to changes in climate. It wasn’t long though before colonisation by man and man became people which started the gradual but inexorable destruction of the woodland cover in Scotland until a ‘low point’ where only 1% of the land was tree-ed. The book clearly identifies the culprits whether it be e.g. the two world wars or sheep!
Many will find it surprising how relatively early people started managing the woods for specific purposes, mostly for shelter for livestock and themselves.
For the woodland ecologist or manager standing in a woodland all those questions (and more) we often ask ourselves will come to mind as we revert back to the book with a "yes, of course. Now I know (or have a good idea) of the answers".
Without doubt, Scotland would be/have been a much healthier place if the tree cover had endured, loss of trees degrades soil in Scotland just as it does in the Mediterranean or in the tropics.
As described the Forestry Commission since its inception in the early 1900’s with the private forestry companies have done much to redress this loss with the planting of large areas of productive conifer.
Chris Smout and his contributors started me thinking of the future of woods in Scotland, perhaps in a more radical way than they could in the last chapter. There is a good case for removing the ‘people’ element from our objectives except for the overriding issue of anthropogenic climate change. We need a lot more planting as some form of mitigation (not future but for Scotland’s historical CO2 production). It’s people that have decimated the woodlands, it’s time for the Forestry Commission to sell off or lease their land holdings and get planting open ground. They are too distracted by forest parks, mountain biking and community woodlands. But the stocking needs to be of native species to re-establish the ecological processes which have been so damaged.
Grouse moors are an anachronism and it’s time for the second ‘clearance’ removing the plus-fours from the moors (with the sheep and deer) with a return to a more natural landscape. This leads me to thoughts of re-wilding and wilderness creation, let's have the ancient cattle, the beaver, the lynx, and if necessary wolves re-established.
As is often the case it’s the NGO’s that are leading the way in reforesting Scotland.