A good article appeared in The Scotsman last week (which is a story in itself!) based on an interview with the new property manager at Mar Lodge Estate, the core of the Cairngorms National Park.
The meat of the piece is the still controversial deer cull which saw deer numbers more than halved between 1995 and now, and the positive effects this has had on tree regeneration.
It’s a message worth getting across, because only last year I was walking with someone through the Derry Woods when he commented on the cull, remarking with considerable cynicism that it had made “no bloody difference at all”.
He couldn’t have timed his pronouncement better, for I was able to prove him wrong just by telling him to open his eyes.
There. There. There. All around us, when you looked, were Scots Pine seedlings poking their heads above the heather.
I pointed out to him that, before the cull, when deer numbers were artificially high and kept that way deliberately, none of these seedlings would have survived. Just look through the Derry Woods (as just one example) and see how overgrazing has robbed us of many generations of these marvellous trees. In the open forest, wherever it has been unfenced, there are no trees other than the new seedlings and fully mature trees.
Until you look down at the fresh growth at ground level, the Derry Woods look very little different from how they were when I was a child way back in the late 1960s. I didn’t remark on the lack of new trees then – you don’t when you’re a kid – but seeing the explosion of new growth in these last few years makes me long for more years on this earth to see how this already beautiful woodland will turn out. It’ll always change, of course, but I’d like to see it at least well on the way to recovery after what has been a long illness.
How will it look? I’ve seen rodden (Mountain Ash) and birch seedlings too, so it won’t be monoculture, but how thick will it be? Will all the new seedlings flourish? At what stage will they squeeze out some of their smaller or slower rivals?
There’s a wee hillock beside the footpath up the Derry, about halfway between Derry Lodge and the rise onto Derry Dam, which maybe gives a clue. Around the tail end of the 1950s (I think) it was fenced off and left to get on with things on its own, with no interference from deer. Even in the ‘60s and ‘70s you could see the difference, and there’s no mistaking the hillock when you pass it now: it’s the one with all ages of tree (including three roddens still wire-shielded from browsing) where sometimes it’s a tyauve to push through between the trees.
There’ll still be pressure from deer in the ‘reborn’ Derry Woods, of course, but that’s natural and, from current signs, won’t stop regeneration the way the last umpteen decades has.
It’ll be interesting, too, to see how high the treeline goes. Reduced pressure from grazing, combined with global warming, might see trees growing higher than you might expect. There are already solitary (and rather poorly) trees growing high in the coires of Derry Cairngorm, just as there’s a tree can be seen silhouetted a third of the way up the Devil’s Point, round where Glens Dee and Geusachan meet.
The Cairngorm pinewoods – the ‘natural’ ones – are already places of beauty and tranquility. But just as I’m reaching an age to really appreciate some of that, suddenly I find them exciting too.
The Scotsman article can be found here, by the way, and is well worth a read. http://thescotsman.scotsman.com/features/Rules-of-the-game-Mar.6765431.jp