Orderly pine plantations in the Cairngorms are being messed up as part of a plan to let nature thrive
The Scots pine plantations in Abernethy forest are the crème de la crème in forestry terms: tall, straight and dense. These plantations were created in the 1930s, and the wood had a variety of uses, from ships’ masts to trench timbers. Now, this woodland is being retrofitted for wildlife as part of the UK’s largest land restoration project because, although it is striking to wander in such a regimented landscape, nature prefers things to be less orderly.
The gnarled older and bigger trees are better for woodland species, which is why conservationists working on Cairngorms Connect are intentionally making a mess and artificially ageing trees as part of their efforts to restore Scotland’s old Caledonian pine forest to its former, imperfect glory.
Over the total area of the Cairngorms Connect project – 600 sq km (230 sq miles) – partners are spending more than £40,000 a year on plantation restructuring, which includes a range of wildlife-enhancing projects, from artificially ageing trees to thinning out commercial plantations. More than 10 sq km of Scots pine has been restructured since 2019. “Here we want twisted, forked trunks, we want the more open-crowned trees,” says Jeremy Roberts, programme manager at Cairngorms Connect, who is showing me around. The woodland is draped in spiderweb lace and the spongy forest floor is spattered in blaeberry, also known as bilberry…
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