One the wildside

Young Stone Pines and mature Black Pine at Bilsdean.
Young Stone Pines and mature Black Pine at Bilsdean.

In 1998 a rumpus erupted in the Parishes of Cockburnspath and Oldhamstocks over the felling of some trees.

These were no ordinary trees, but a line of elegant mature specimens of the Stone Pine, Pinus pinea, which had the misfortune to be growing on the main line railway bank near Bilsdean, just outside Berwickshire in East Lothian. One of them had fallen over the adjacent road and unfortunately Railtrack decided they were a health and safety risk and felled the lot without any local consultation.

The locals were fully justified in their outrage, as these were very important and historic specimens, supposedly the only examples of Stone Pine in Scotland. Railtrack did try to make amends, and planted 20 young replacements along the same stretch of railway bank.

On a recent Berwickshire Naturalists’ Club outing to Dunglass and Oldhamstocks, I made a pilgrimage to look at the site to see how the youngsters were doing, and to see if the rumour that one had survived, was true.

A mature pine at the site had indeed survived, but unfortunately not the right species – it is a Black Pine, Pinus nigra, which is not uncommon in cultivation.

Why it was spared, and not the Stone Pines, is anyone’s guess. However, most of the young Stone Pines are growing well and already bearing cones, although a few are being shaded out by other trees and may not survive.

Photographs of one of the six Stone Pines at Dunglass were published in the History of the Berwickshire Naturalists’ Club in 1905 and 1953 where it was reported that they were planted ‘not long after the opening of the railway in 1846’ so they must have been approximately 150 years old when felled.

Those who travel anywhere along the Mediterranean will have see Stone Pines (more descriptively also known as Umbrella Pines) which are very striking and sculptural trees with their broad umbrella-shaped crowns. The botanical name Pinus pinea was coined by the great botanist Linnaeus to signify their importance – it literally means ‘Pine of Pines’.

The cones of Stone Pine are enormous compared to our Scots Pine, and contain edible seeds sold as Pine Nuts. They take three years to mature.

There are many very fine specimens of trees on the historic Dunglass Estate, including Black Pines and Scots Pines, but of particular note by the gateposts on the road leading to Dunglass Collegiate Church is a magnificent old specimen of the rare Strawberry Tree Arbutus unedo, bearing its delicate pendulous strawberry-like fruits. This is well worth a visit, as is the splendid church and other antiquities.

Thanks to everyone who contributed and helped at our recent coffee morning in Duns. We raised about £300 which is a great boost to the funds of the Berwickshire Group of the SWT. Well done.