Conservationists have launched a search for Scotland’s “lost” native pinewoods to try and save them before they disappear forever.
Caledonian pinewoods, with an ancestry that can be traced back to the end of the last ice age, support rare wildlife including red squirrels, capercaillie and crossbills.
The Caledonian forest once covered much of the Highlands but less than 2% of it remains and just 84 individual Caledonian pinewoods are officially recognised.
However, Woodland Trust Scotland and Trees for Life have become aware of other wild pinewoods and, from historical documents and anecdotal reports, more are thought to exist.
The charities have now teamed up to identify and save these forgotten pinewoods through the Wild Pine Project, beginning with the western Highlands, where Scots pines form part of Scotland’s rare temperate rainforest.
It comes after a study last year found that many of the known pinewoods are on a “knife-edge”.
Jane Sayers, wild pine project officer for Trees for Life, said: “Lost pinewoods are at particular risk because they are unrecognised and undocumented.
“We want to find them, assess their condition, and revive them before they are lost forever.
“Finding these pinewoods requires a lot of detective work. They are often small and remote, hidden in ravines safe from deer. Pines, or their remains, are often found scattered among birchwood too.”
The Wild Pine Project is identifying lost pine sites by tracing their history through the centuries using historical evidence, including maps which date as far back as the 1500s.
Once potential sites are found, historical, ecological and landscape evidence will help establish whether they are wild or planted, and their health and resilience will be assessed.
The charities will then work for the recognition and recovery of the discovered wild pinewoods, including by presenting findings to landowners and managers.
The unique status of Caledonian pinewood was first documented by HM Steven and A Carlisle in their 1959 book, The Native Pinewoods of Scotland, which included 35 sites.
In the 1990s, the then Forestry Commission Scotland compiled a register, which became the Caledonian Pinewood Inventory. Last updated in 1998, the inventory recognises 84 sites.
Last year, a major Trees for Life study into the health of 72 of these known pinewoods concluded many are on a “knife-edge” – with high deer numbers, non-native conifers, lack of long-term management, and climate breakdown representing major threats to their survival.
The rewilding charity is calling on the Scottish Government to help tackle the nature and climate emergencies through action to save the woodlands, including through targeted funding for restoration and major reductions in deer numbers.
The Scottish Government has been asked for comment.
The Wild Pine Project is funded by Woodland Trust Scotland, thanks to support from players of the People’s Postcode Lottery, and by Trees for Life, thanks to support from the TreadRight Foundation.
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