Native Pine Woodland - Spodzone
Tall, dark tree trunks, the crunch of pine cones beneath your feet, wet, spongy mosses and the cool green light of a pine needle canopy come together to form a typical pine woodland scene. But did you know that native pine woodlands are, in fact, relict forests? They are important examples of the European boreal forests that stretch through Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia and are home to brown bears and wolves.
Native pine woodlands are dominated by self-sown Scots pine. They occur throughout the central and north-eastern Grampians and in the northern and western Highlands of Scotland. Unfortunately, our native pine woodlands no longer harbour such charismatic species as those of Europe. They occur on infertile soils, so they do not support a large diversity of plants and animals. However, characteristic species can be found here and many rare species do make these forests their home.
Where are they found?
About 4,000 years ago, native pine woodlands may have covered more than 1.5 million hectares in the Scottish Highlands. Today, they occupy just 1% of this former range, some 16,000 hectares, spread over 77 separate areas across the Highlands.
Why are they important?
The main tree species of native pine woodlands is Scots pine, although birches, rowan, alder, willow and bird cherry are also found. Scots pine plays host to a whole range of species, from stump lichens and Scottish wood ants that live on and under the bark, to majestic ospreys and golden eagles that nest in its level branches.
If deer browsing levels are low, the shrub understorey may include common juniper, holly, aspen and hazel. Old or dead trees and rotting wood supports significant beetle and bryophyte communities. On the forest floor bell heather, billberry and crowberry grow, adding some seasonal colour to the darkened stands.
Many uncommon and rare species are found in this habitat including twinflower and one-flowered wintergreen, the specialist hoverfly, Callicera rufa, and the distinctive capercaillie. The UK’s only endemic bird species, the Scottish crossbill, can also be found here. So-named for its bizarre cross-tipped bill which it uses to prise out the seeds from pine cones, the crossbill can often be seen in large flocks near the treetops. It is resident all year-round, but may be joined by continental birds during 'irruption' years when numbers soar.
Another rare and threatened species which relies on native pine woodlands is the red squirrel – the seeds of the pine cones are one of its favourite foods.
Are they threatened?
During the medieval ages, a great pine forest stretched across most of the Highlands; but by the 17th century, it was disappearing as timber was used for ship-building and charcoal. Although just a fraction of this original forest now stands, regeneration has started to occur, especially in areas fenced off from browsing deer.
How are The Wildlife Trusts helping?
The Wildlife Trusts manage many woodland nature reserves sympathetically for all kinds of species. A mix of coppicing, scrub-cutting, ride maintenance and non-intervention all help woodland wildlife to thrive.
We are also working closely with other landowners to promote wildlife-friendly and traditional practices in these areas. We have a vision of A Living Landscape: a network of habitats and wildlife corridors across town and country, which are good for both wildlife and people.
What can I do to help?
- Take part in conservation measures on your land – in Scotland ask the Scottish Wildlife Trust for advice on the management of native pine woodlands.
- Support the work of The Wildlife Trusts across the UK creating, protecting and restoring woodlands and their wildlife – become a member of your local Wildlife Trust.
- Volunteer with The Wildlife Trusts and help your local woodland wildlife; depending on where you live you could be involved in everything from traditional forest crafts to raising awareness about woodland animals.