The letter from Stuart Housden, the director of RSPB Scotland, and others (10 May) about the need for woodland expansion seems to have misunderstood the criticisms being made of the proposed RSPB planting scheme at Abernethy.
Of course there is a need to expand native woodlands – and planting should have role in this – but so should natural regeneration. The issue is that in the Cairngorms, the largest area of wild land in Scotland, the RSPB is failing to allow nature to decide its course and replacing this by humans deciding what tree species should go where.
The reason this matters is that the Cairngorms plateau is the largest area in the British Isles where natural processes are dominant – despite the incursion of the ski area – and human influences on the native pinewoods that flank the massif have probably been less than in other native pinewoods in Scotland. Those who fought so long to conserve the Cairngorms and whose campaigning led to the creation of the National Park had a vision of creating a core area where natural processes occurred from strath to summit, with the main human intervention being limited to bringing down artificially high deer numbers.
The RSPB proposals for Abernethy raise many questions. The organisation has made much of the need to connect the areas of native woodland at Abernethy with the pass of Ryvoan managed by the Forestry Commission next door. But if you walk in this area, it’s not hard to find young trees in the heather, all of which have seeded naturally – the problem is they have been unable to grow due to grazing pressure.
Unfortunately, current subsidy regimes for forestry pays for planting but not for the management of deer numbers that would allow woodland to regenerate naturally. Instead of planting, the RSPB and other conservation organisations should be campaigning to allow a very small proportion of total public monies spent on forestry to be used to manage deer numbers in the central Cairngorms and other areas where there is the potential to enable natural processes to be re-established as the dominant force in the landscape.