A new project from Trees for Life and Woodland Trust Scotland aims to discover Scotland’s ‘lost’ native pinewoods so they can be saved before it’s too late.

Caledonian pinewoods are globally unique and support rare wildlife including red squirrels, capercaillie and crossbills. Yet less than 2% of the Caledonian forest, which once covered much of the Highlands, survives. Just 84 individual Caledonian pinewoods are now officially recognised, having been last documented more than a quarter of a century ago.

But recent efforts by Woodland Trust Scotland and Trees for Life suggest that there are more of these lost pinewoods waiting to be rediscovered. Drawing from historical documents and anecdotal reports, it’s believed that additional sites exist, hidden away in the rugged landscapes of Scotland.

The Wild Pine Project, initiated by these two organisations, aims to locate and protect these forgotten pinewoods, starting with the western Highlands, where Scots pines contribute to Scotland’s rare temperate rainforest ecosystem. Over the centuries, these wild pinewoods have faced numerous threats, including overgrazing by herbivores, which has contributed to their decline.

(Trees for Life)

Jane Sayers, the Wild Pine Project Officer, explains the challenges of this endeavour: “Lost pinewoods are at particular risk because they are unrecognised and undocumented. We want to find them, assess their condition, and revive them before they are lost forever.”

“Finding these pinewoods requires a lot of detective work. They are often small and remote, hidden in ravines safe from deer. Pines, or their remains, are often found scattered among birchwood too.”

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The project employs a variety of methods to locate these lost sites, including delving into historical records dating as far back as the 1500s. Once potential sites are identified, a comprehensive assessment is undertaken to determine whether they are wild or planted, alongside their health and resilience. The findings are then presented to landowners and managers to garner support for their conservation and restoration.

The urgency of this conservation effort is underscored by recent studies indicating that many of the known pinewoods are teetering on the brink of collapse. Factors such as high deer populations, encroachment by non-native conifers, lack of long-term management and the impacts of climate change threaten their survival.

Trees for Life is calling on the Scottish Government to take decisive action to address these challenges. This includes landscape-scale initiatives to restore and protect these woodlands, along with targeted funding and measures to reduce deer numbers.

The significance of this conservation effort was highlighted in a recent parliamentary debate in the Scottish Parliament. Coinciding with the 10th anniversary of the Scots pine being declared Scotland’s national tree, the debate emphasised the need for urgent action to save the Caledonian pinewoods.

Funding for the Wild Pine Project comes from Woodland Trust Scotland, supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, and Trees for Life, with support from the TreadRight Foundation.

In a world facing unprecedented environmental challenges, the quest to rediscover and safeguard Scotland’s lost pinewoods serves as a beacon of hope for conservation efforts worldwide. 

For more information on the Wild Pine Project, visit treesforlife.org.uk.