Why is Scotland so treeless

Scotland's changing nature"The forest reminded me of a geriatric ward"

Dundreggan, a small town in the Highlands west of Loch Ness, is something of a mecca for the afforestation movement. Afforestation is actually the wrong word. Because no forest, no commercial forest should arise here. Rather, the original natural forest, which once covered large parts of the Highlands, is to be renewed. A forest that consisted mainly of deciduous trees, but was cleared early to make room for agriculture and especially sheep breeding. Even today there are more sheep than people in Scotland.

Caledonia, the ancient Roman name for Scotland

Now almost a dozen volunteers are planting new trees, pulling seeds and putting young saplings in a bed. Alan Watson Featherstone, founder of the Trees for Life initiative, gray hair, ponytail. He usually drops in on Thursdays to see how it goes:

"I founded 'Trees for Life' in 1986 with the aim of renewing the Caledonian forest in the highlands. I felt cold in this barren landscape. The last few trees were struggling to survive and falling victim to their age. I saw how they shed their seeds, but as all young shoots were eaten by game. The forest reminded me of a geriatric ward and I realized: if nothing happens, all trees will be gone in fifty years. I thought someone should do something about it. And it dawned on me that someone could be me. "

The original Caledonian forest is to be restored

The core area of ​​the project is 50 kilometers long and 50 kilometers wide. It extends from this valley - Glenmoriston - over almost 1000 meter high mountain ranges to the northern parallel valley - Glen Affric. Featherstone chose the area because there are still a few remnants of the Caledonian forest here. And because it is bordered by roads - but no roads lead through it. It has hardly been developed economically and should - according to the vision - be forested again in 250 years.

Some slopes are already wooded, but with commercial forest, spruce and Douglas fir, planted in rows, in monotonous dark green. Exactly what Featherstone doesn't want. He wants the original, Caledonian forest with its many shades of light green in summer and brightly colored leaves in autumn. Where the only conifer is the Scots Pine, which is native Scots pine, otherwise nothing but deciduous trees: birch, ash, mountain ash, oak, yew, juniper - and a tree that is particularly close to Featherstone's heart: the aspen, also known as the trembling poplar.

Alan Watson Featherstone, founder of the Trees for Life initiative in Scotland. (Gabor Paal)

Featherstone's Trees for Life initiative has a good reputation in the UK. There is no shortage of volunteers. Some come for a day, some for a week, some, like Emily, for two months:

"Today is tree nursery day. We will put these birch seedlings here in the bed to overwinter so that we can plant them in the field next spring. Yesterday we also planted trees, especially willows and a few birches. I like this practical work , and the landscape is great. "

The areas planted by "Trees for Life" stand out clearly from the bare hills of the area, which belong to large landowners. Half of Scotland, says Featherstone, is in the hands of just 80 people:

"Our neighbor in the east is a Dane who comes here to hunt only two or three weeks a year. And he farms his land in such a way that he has a lot to shoot. The land up the valley belongs to a Belgian, in the northern parallel valley, for example, to an Arab It belongs to 25,000 hectares that only occasionally flies in to hunt. These people - not all, but many - only come here to shoot animals with their friends for fun. "

When Featherstone began his work in the mid-1980s, he was a lone fighter, just an eco-fiddle from the famous alternative Findhorn community. That has changed fundamentally. Although he runs his foundation himself, the goal - the reforestation of Scotland - has long been a priority for the state forest authority.

Their flagship project is two hours' drive south. The Great Trossachs Forest, in the heart of Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park. The project area lies along the romantic Loch Katrine, a long lake flanked by mountains, in whose calm water the wooded slopes are reflected in autumn colors. "The image that we have of Scotland in our heads has its origin here," explains the young project manager Sue Morris and leads me to a small display board at the edge of the lake, where a poem sounds at the push of a button:

"It began with this poem by Sir Walter Scott, early 19th century. Lady of the Lake. Lake - that is, the lake - meant Loch Katrine. This poem attracted people to Scotland, to this beautiful place. Before that, the Highlands were considered simply as a country of wilds. Walter Scott created the romantic image of Scotland that we know to this day - with the beautiful lochs and the wonderful mountainous country. But even then, intensive sheep farming was practiced here. The sheep grazed the mountains bald. In this respect, our romantic image of Scotland corresponds not the natural state of the Highlands.… yes, if we reforest the area it might disappoint some travelers. But I don't think it will put them off. "

"Forestry is part of our heritage"

Jo O’Hara, head of the State Forestry Service in Edinburgh, is also confident:

"We have landscape architects who make sure that the forests are in harmony with the landscape. Also that the forest looks good from the central viewpoints of the national park. The forest should blend in with the landscape."

Scotland's quest for independence, or at least more autonomy, has also fueled the new love for the forest, explains Jo O’Hara:

"Forestry is generally a bigger issue with us than in England, there are many other industries that are much more important. In Scotland, forestry is part of our heritage and our culture. And now that Scotland has become more confident, it is developing its own forest strategy. "

In Scotland with its harsh winters, trees grow slowly. We will only see the fruits of our labor in 20 or 30 years. But I think it's fantastic. I always say that when I'm 80 or 90 I want to be wheeled around here and see what the trees we are planting today look like. Our children and grandchildren will still talk about our work when we are no longer there. "