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Conquering the Highlands

Conquering the Highlands: A history of the afforestation of the Scottish uplands

K. Jan Oosthoek
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: ANU Press
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  • Book Info
    Conquering the Highlands
    Book Description:

    Deforestation of Scotland began millennia ago and by the early 20th century woodland cover was down to about 6 per cent of the total land area. A century later woodland cover had tripled. Most of the newly established forestry plantations were created on elevated land with wet peaty soils and high wind exposure, not exactly the condition in which forests naturally thrive. Jan Oosthoek tells in this book the story of how 20th century foresters devised ways to successfully reforest the poor Scottish uplands, land that was regarded as unplantable, to fulfil the mandate they had received from the Government and wider society to create a timber reserve. He raises the question whether the adopted forestry practice was the only viable means to create forests in the Scottish Highlands by examining debates within the forestry community about the appearance of the forests and their longterm ecological prospects. Finally, the book argues that the long held ecological convictions among foresters and pressure from environmentalists came together in the late 20th century to create more environmentally sensitive forestry.

    eISBN: 978-1-922144-79-9
    Subjects: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of figures
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. List of tables
    (pp. viii-viii)
  5. List of maps
    (pp. viii-viii)
  6. List of acronyms
    (pp. ix-x)
  7. [Map]
    (pp. xi-xii)
  8. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    K. Jan Oosthoek
  9. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    In July 1800 John Leyden (1775 – 1811), the well known Scottish linguist and poet, travelled trough Glen Croe in present day Argyll Forest Park, next to Loch Long, in the west of Scotland. In his travel journal he described the glen as ‘the most desolate place under heaven’, and he added: ‘[i]t is completely covered with stones of different descriptions, which leave no room for vegetation’.¹ The attitude of John Leyden was typical throughout the 19th century: the uplands of Scotland were regarded as unproductive, apart from sheep grazing, and certainly not suitable for any serious forestry. In the intervening...

  10. 1. The nature and development of the forests since the last ice age
    (pp. 11-32)

    Many tourists travelling through the Scottish landscape regard much of the treeless scenery as natural and do not expect to see extensive forests. The problem is that extensive forests grow at the same latitudes in North America and Scandinavia which suggests that the Scottish climate should be suitable for extensive tree growth. This chapter investigates the question why large parts of Scotland are not densely forested at present by putting this in the long historical context of the past 12,000 years. The first part of the chapter considers the physical environment of Scotland and how this impacts on the potential...

  11. 2. Scottish forestry in the 19th century
    (pp. 33-50)

    Scotland has been at the centre of forestry in Britain since at least the seventeenth century. While German forestry, in particular in Prussia in the late 18th century, shifted towards state intervention and a decline of the independent, privately owned estate, in Scotland the opposite happened and from the seventeenth century landowners started to experiment with new modes of forestry, without any form of centralised state intervention. From the early 1600s, tree planting on Scottish estates increased steadily, while ‘improving’ Scottish landowners began to introduce tree species from continental Europe such as sycamore maple, Norway spruce, larch and European silver...

  12. 3. The upland question
    (pp. 51-70)

    At the outbreak of the First World War, hardly anyone in Britain had foreseen the devastating consequences of the German submarine campaign for the wood supply of the country. Before the war 92 per cent of timber was imported occupying 12 per cent of total shipping space entering British ports.¹ In addition modern warfare required immense quantities of wood for huts, hospitals, roads, barges, trenches, ammunition cases, provision boxes and a whole host of other purposes. Even more important was the use of wood in mining operations and a shortage of pit props meant no mining, no coal, no heating,...

  13. 4. Post-war policy: The end of the strategic reserve
    (pp. 71-80)

    The massive felling during the Second World War justified the strategic underpinning of the British forestry programme as it had been formulated in 1919. When the war broke out in 1939, almost all of the plantations created by the Forestry Commission were less than 20 years old. This resulted in the felling and depletion of many of the older forests in Britain in general and in Scotland in particular. In response, the Government asked the Forestry Commission to produce a review of forestry policy and to advise on how to deal with the loss of woodlands due to the war...

  14. 5. Contradictions in the forests: Economics versus conservation
    (pp. 81-94)

    By the early 1960s the Forestry Commission was in search for a new justification to underpin forestry policy. The problem was that the Zuckerman Report and the working party set up in its wake recommended a two strand forestry policy that was on the one hand based on amenity and social objectives and on the other economics. During the 1960s the Commission struggled to come to terms with these two seemingly contradictory directions in forest policy and this chapter will chart the evolution of this struggle, which ended in favour of hard economics. This outcome laid the foundation for the...

  15. 6. Landscape aesthetics, conservation and public access before 1940
    (pp. 95-114)

    The story of Scottish forestry during the twentieth century is not only one of forest expansion and timber production, but also one of tourism, recreation and landscape conservation. This is a significant aspect of the interaction between the Forestry Commission, the general public and other stakeholders such as local landowners and conservation organisations¹ and its influence on forestry policy. The story begins during the Romantic period in the late 18th and early 19th centuries when poets, travellers and naturalists discovered both pleasure and scientific interest in British woods long before ecologists and conservationists in the middle of the twentieth century....

  16. 7. Landscape aesthetics, conservation and public access after 1940
    (pp. 115-130)

    After the Second World War the Nature Conservancy’s Scottish Committee emerged as a new major player on the conservation and land management stage in Scotland. The Nature Conservancy was established in 1949 and its mission was to create and manage nature reserves, which preserved flora and fauna, geological and physiological features. The Conservancy was also charged with conducting research and advising planning and land management authorities on Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).¹ It was set up as a nation-wide organisation but the Scottish Wildlife Conservation Committee (the Ritchie Committee), which advocated the creation of a single conservation service for...

  17. 8. Foresters as naturalists
    (pp. 131-148)

    The massive afforestation programme that started in 1919, and speeded up after the Second World War, had a direct impact on the landscape. The most visible of this impact is, of course, the change in the landscape that comes with the planting and harvesting of forests. There is a sense of loss when a familiar landscape is transformed by forestry operations such as planting and tree harvesting. It is for this reason that the visible impact of forestry operations sparked off the earliest debates about landscape aesthetics and amenity in relation to forestry. In the previous two chapters we explored...

  18. 9. The end of monoculture forestry
    (pp. 149-168)

    By 1978 a landscape design policy had been introduced by the Forestry Commission and by 1984 the Commission had a landscape design team of three foresters with landscape design qualifications. Between 1975 and 1982 this team was able to design about 7,300 hectares of new planting and 7,100 hectares of felling and replanting, concentrated in the most beautiful and prominent landscapes in Scotland and England.¹

    However, the ideas of landscape design were still not fully accepted by the Forestry Commission as being part of its role, and were regarded as rather separate from production forestry. Forestry had become so highly...

  19. 10. The past and the future
    (pp. 169-178)

    At the start of the 21st century, control of the publicly-owned forests of Scotland had been transferred to the Scottish Executive.¹ This was the beginning of a divergence in Scottish forestry policy from the rest of the United Kingdom, which was reflected in the first Scottish Forestry Strategy published in 2000. It highlighted the differences in emphasis between Scottish objectives and those of the English forestry strategy. While the English forestry strategy had a strong focus on public use of the forests, there was stronger support for commercial forestry in Scotland, reflecting both the larger forest estate in this country...

  20. List of people interviewed
    (pp. 179-180)
  21. Glossary of terms
    (pp. 181-184)
  22. Glossary of common and scientific names of tree species
    (pp. 185-186)
  23. Archival collections consulted
    (pp. 187-188)
  24. Select bibliography
    (pp. 189-192)