On lost Scottish Woodland

I am rather sad this week. They are chopping down woodland on the hill behind the house. It has been there for more than 160 years, is one of the largest stands of pine trees in my area and is home to badgers, deer, foxes, rodents of all kinds, many species of birds, plants, fungi, lichen and insects. It was the last local refuge for red squirrels a few years ago too.  It is sad that so many species are now being displaced in the desire for profit.

The first photo is the covert before felling started. The second is today.

Linton Covert 19th March 21

Early history

This following map is the earliest I have found of the area. From 1863 (but surveyed in 1859) it shows the smaller version of the covert. An 1898 map shows its more familiar, modern shape. Some of the existing trees there will be much older than 162 years. Linton as a whole is steeped in history. From my front garden I can see the spots where 6 iron age hill forts were situated, I see one medieval castle, one of the first churches in Scotland and the remains of a peel tower destroyed by Henry VIII's troops. I have discovered a holy well, the possible existence of an ancient priory and the places where ancient enclosures were located. And that is just the things I know about. Human beings have been here for a long time and carved the landscape into what they needed.

New wildlife

However in recent years I have seen an expansion of wildlife here with new species moving in and breeding. Nuthatches have gone from being a rare sight to buzzing in and out of the garden every day. Long tailed tits, magpies, small copper and wall butterflies - and every summer I seem to discover another newcomer to the area. They all need somewhere to live. But the long tailed tits were displaced from their usual haunt by the building of a new house in a disused quarry and woodland is being removed at a rate I have not seen before.Bumble bee illustration

Lost habitat

A couple of years ago I watched woodland on the hillside opposite the house being felled. It takes minutes to remove a giant pine tree. Half an hour removes habitat for multiple species. I know that pine forest is not considered ideal by a lot of conservationists (have a read of this article on Felling Trees for Conservation for some insight), but the reality is that a number of creatures, particularly Scottish ones, rely on the cover and food provided by the pines. Bear in mind that this is springtime too and most of the animals are in the middle of raising their brood of youngsters. There are various wildlife and countryside acts that are supposed to protect wildlife and their habitats - but the reality is no one is taking any notice.Shield bug illustration

The really sad part is that there is not an equivalent amount of replanting for each tree felled.

So the habitat of the future is not being created either. The Guardian has a photo-article on Sweden's lost ancient pine forests that points out some of the issues of loss to the human and animal populations. The bottom line is that we won't be able to recreate habitat like this - certainly not in our lifetimes, if ever. It takes minutes to cut a tree but decades for another tree to grow in its place if someone bothers to plant it. There are places on the hills here where small plantations were cut down decades ago - and all that remains is a bald patch with a few straggling pines around the edge.

fungi illustration

What do we do about this?

Sadly this is the story up and down Britain. Trees are being felled for rail links and development or for the price of the lumber. It is the economy in action. I wish I could leave this little essay with a chink of hope but the best I can offer is the option of planting our own trees to replace the ones being removed. I have dedicated trees to loved ones via The Woodland Trust, grown my own saplings from seeds gathered in the autumn and bought extra trees to plant in my garden. We can cultivate our own little plots as best we can. This week Prince Charles wanted to encourage everyone to plant trees to celebrate the Queen's Platinum Jubilee next year. What a wonderful thought. We can only hope it catches on.