The unique pines are facing ecological disaster
Scotland’s Caledonian pinewoods could be wiped out a comprehensive study has revealed.
Thought to be the first major study into their health for over 60 years, the Scots pine was found to be in serious decline at a quarter of the more than 1,200 half-acre plots analysed.
The Caledonian forest once covered much of the Highlands, but after centuries of deforestation only 2% remains.
The Caledonian Forest covered huge swathes of Scotland, and even reached the Western Isles and Shetland 5,000 years ago.
A change to a cooler and wetter climate, along with human activity, led to a decline in the forest's coverage.
By the 1900s about 5% of Scotland's land area had woodland, according to Scottish government agency NatureScot.
Steve Micklewright, Trees for Life’s chief executive, warned: “Our findings are an alarm bell for Scotland’s Caledonian pinewoods, which are such an important part of the country’s culture and environment.
“The majority of the surviving fragments are now on a knife-edge, and bold action is needed to save them from being lost forever.
“A landscape-scale approach backed by the Scottish Government is urgently needed to save, expand and connect up these precious woodlands before it is too late.”
James Rainey, Trees for Life’s senior ecologist, who led the study, added: “In the worst cases, the pinewoods have suffered non-native conifer planting or fire followed by grazing pressure, with the impacts of climate breakdown a growing threat.
“These pinewoods should be playing a key role in Scotland’s fight-back against the climate and nature emergencies, but right now most are on their last legs.
“It’s not too late to turn this around, but that means seriously stepping-up restoration and rewilding action.”
The study’s findings will be used by Trees for Life to develop a follow-up project with landowners and land managers for practical action to protect, expand and reconnect the most threatened pinewoods.