Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Carrifran Wildwood

One of the most irritating rants I go on is about how ecologically impoverished the UK is. In America, it's not hard to find a mixed forest on the edge of many towns. In Scotland, finding a healthy-seeming forest requires Internet research and a long pilgrimage. 

The other weekend I pilgrimaged to the Carrifran Woodland in southwest Scotland, where conservationists are experimenting with one valley in the Moffat hills. They've planted 500,000 native species of tree and shrub within 1,600 acres, with the idea of showing what an ecologically-restored Scotland might look like. They are twenty years into the project, so the trees are not tall, but when you walk over the land, you get a sense of the project's potential, even during a time of year when the forest has sunk into its winter slumber.

Take a close look at this next picture.

There's a lot to unpack in the above picture. Look at the far hill in front of us. There, you'll see a forest on the left half of the hill and grassy vegetation on the right side of the hill. This picture tells us so much about Scottish ecology and the lack thereof. The forest on the hill is probably made up entirely of "Sitka Spruce," a non-native species which is being grown for timber. These forests are not really forests--they're typically monocultures that have almost nothing residing within them. The forest does show, however, that forests CAN grow in Scotland, even up and over hills. Now look at the bare side of the hill on the right. This moorland terrain used to seem beautiful to me, until I learned that it isn't naturally desolate. It is actually a human-created wasteland. The only reason that hill is bare is because there is an overabundance of deer and sheep which nibble any and all saplings to death. Walk on that bare hill and then walk through the Sitka Spruce forest and you'll be disturbed to realize that it is ecologically impoverished, with few birds, bugs, plants, and animals.

Now look at the shadowy forest in the foreground. This is Carrifran Wildwood, where most all of the trees have been hand-planted with a variety of tree species, and where sheep and deer are discouraged from entering. This piece of land, when it comes of age, might show us what Scotland could look like if it's managed until it doesn't need to be managed.

Town of Moffat, 7 miles from woods


Scott said...

How much do UK natives 1. know and 2. care about the grass-where-there-used-to-be-forest situation? What incentives are there (or could there be) to rewild? Are there too few deer hunters, as is the case in the US?

Ken said...

I'd say UK natives are hardly aware of their ecological mismanagement. The term "shifting baseline syndrome" describes how what we think of as "normal" is determined by what we've experienced in our lifetimes. The baseline of normality for a native Brit five thousand years ago would have included forests, predators, and a completely different ecology. Now, a Brit thinks an impoverished landscape of sheep and rabbits are normal, and that the existing species (rather than those that have disappeared) are the ones who need protecting. That said, I do think the Brits care about nature--they just need a more evolved understanding of conservation and stewardship. They should all take a trip to Alaska and see the potential for their own land.

The grouse moors and commercial deer herds, which are ecologically terrible, could be rewilded and made to be destinations for eco-tourism. I'd like to think that sheepherders and gamekeepers could transition into professional rewilders, but that's my own fantastical thinking. There are other benefits, like flood reduction and carbon sequestration and other human-centric benefits that come with rewilding.

I recommend George Monbiot's "Feral," or joining the "Rewilding Scotland" Facebook group. I get a lot from each.