Elsewhere, particularly in wetter areas to the west, remote or upwind from the nearest seed source, no such success is evident. In exclosures in upper Glen Affric, for example, just a few kilometres from existing pinewoods, the number of pine seedlings arising by natural regeneration over the last ten years and more can be counted on the fingers of one hand. This is not a result of the land being obviously unsuitable for pine: in nearby exclosures where pine has been planted they are flourishing.
The prospect for regeneration in the vast, far more remote, areas of the west is dismal, even if grazing pressure were reduced.
Yesterday saw the publication of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change WG2 report. It warns of the prospect of “severe, pervasive and irreversible” impacts, including a higher risk of intense rainfall.
It is time for a fundamental national reappraisal of land management in our uplands.
Sequestrating carbon by greatly reducing upland grazing pressure and re-establishing native woodlands is probably one of the cheapest means whereby Scotland can contribute to the global effort required to reduce net carbon emissions.
Such action would also help to protect soils, reduce erosion and flooding and provide the widely appreciated benefits for wildlife and landscape. Climate change means we don’t have the luxury of waiting several decades to see if natural regeneration could do the job. We already have enough evidence to judge that, in remote areas, it will not. We urgently need to give our returning woodlands a helping hand by planting.