On the wildside

Old Scots Pines on Greenlaw Moor.
Old Scots Pines on Greenlaw Moor.

The Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris) is the best-known of our few native coniferous trees in Scotland though this name is somewhat misleading as it is native right across northern Europe and Russia to Eastern Siberia.

In Scotland it was voted in 2014 as our National Tree and if you visit the ancient Caledonian Pine Forests of Speyside, Glen Affric or the Black Wood of Rannoch it is easy to see why. There you can see magnificent ancient ‘granny’ pines several hundred years old along with vigorously regenerating young trees in many places where deer are excluded or controlled.

These forests also support iconic Scottish birds such as Capercaillie and Crested Tits, and a number of special plants and insects. In recent years many initiatives to regenerate and restore some of our native Caledonian Pine woods have been gaining ground and many of these forests are now expanding. However, these projects are restricted to the Scottish Highlands. What about the Southern Uplands?

There are no proven native Scots Pine woods in the south of Scotland though just over the border in Kielder Forest are some ancient pines which some experts believe could be remnants of a truly native population.

One theory is that our ancient pines could have suffered the fate of many of the ancient woodlands of southern Scotland and been lost through past forest clearance, or by changing climate.

There is evidence from pollen preserved in peat in the Tweedsmuir Hills in Peeblesshire that 7000 years ago native pines grew in that area, but were later replaced by other tree species.

The Berwickshire climate is well suited to Scots Pine, and the fine old trees on Greenlaw Moor, presumably planted, show that the natural look of Caledonian Pine Forest can be recreated locally.

Borders Forest Trust are now actively engaged in creating new native forests locally, and the question ‘should we plant Scots Pine’ has arisen and the consensus is that it is worth trying. Hopefully we will see more being planted in years to come, using seed sourced from the Highlands.

In our small native woodland project at Spottiswoode we have just planted a new area with 250 Scots Pines sourced from the Eastern Highlands and supplied by Cheviot Trees in Foulden. These are already growing vigorously and we plan to add some young Junipers to the fringes of the area as would be found on Speyside. These have been grown from cuttings taken from one of the small Juniper colonies in the Lammermuirs.