a potted history of forests in the Scottish Borders

After the last Ice Age, 10 000 years ago, gradually forest established itself in Southern Scotland, mainly dominated by oak. The  map above shows how much of that has been lost in the last six thousand years.

To quote from The Carrifran Wildwood Story (p17)

A few ecologists argue that complex natural factors – rather than human activities – are mainly responsible for forest loss in the Highlands and Wester Isles, but everyone agrees that hmans and their associated grazing animals have played the major role in the Southern Uplands. In this area, pastoralism became significant thousands of years ago and forest clearance accelarated in the [early Middle Ages], but the beginning of the end for the natural woodlands of the Scottish Borderlands came with the monastic exapnsion of the 12th century. the large and well documented flocks of sheep and herds of cattle, as well as the rarely mentioned goats, gradually inhibited the natural regeneration of trees and led to the development of increasingly senile woodlands.

In the following centuries, warfare often involved scorched earth policies and the felling of many trees, but as pointed out by Chris Badenoch …. the lawlessness of families and internceine strife may have had equaly serious impact on forests, and any attempt at enclosure and regeneration or replanting was doomed by action of one’s neighborus. There were efforts to conserve woods, but the are in the western Borders known as Ettrick Forest seems to have been largely denuded byt the 16th century. Reently it was estimated that in the Borders as a whole, only around 0.25% of the land carried semi-natural woodland.

The current situation is that most of the native woodlands have vanished, replaced by ‘sheepscapes’ – artificially maintained grassland – and commercial forestry, mainly monoculture of conifers.

Some references:

Source of map: The Carrifran Wildwood Story, by Philip and Myrtle Ashmole, Borders Forest Trust, 2009 (p16)Richard Tipping: (1997) Vegetational history of southern Scotland, Botanical Journal of Scotland49 (2), 151-162

TC Smout (Editor) People and Woods in Scotland,  a history. Edinburgh University Press.





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