Killing trees for conservation

ringed trees near Derry Lodge, Cairngorms

Some of the ringed trees visible from the track near Derry Lodge. Photo by John Watson

A few folk have been curious about the ring-barking of trees in the forestry plantation just east of Derry Lodge.

I did ask one of the estate ecologists if he fancied writing a guest post to explain it but haven’t heard back, so you’ll have to settle here for a layman’s account, based on a chat with one of the rangers.

The ringing of the trees – removal of the bark in a strip right round the trunk of the tree – does, as you might have guessed, kill the tree, and has been carried out quite extensively in this plantation.

This is done to thin out the densely packed plantation and create more natural-looking woodland, and to create dead wood as a resource for insects and birds.

Map showing location of ringed trees near Derry Lodge in Cairngorms

The plantation where the ringed trees can be seen, in the unfenced section of the plantation circled on the map.

Just walking by along the Derry track, it’s plain that a whole group of trees near the south-east corner have been ringed, and I wondered about this concentration of activity rather than spreading it out evenly. (There are other trees ringed further into the woods, but all in clumps similar to what can be seen from the track.)

The reason is twofold. The estate has selected certain strong trees and ringed all those around them, to give them room to grow properly. Many people don’t realise that the beautiful, gnarled old Caledonian Pines which spread out in a dense, bushy crown, are exactly the same as the pines which grow straight and narrow in plantations; they’ve just had the room to spread. And that’s the intention by clumping the trees selected for ringing: to make a clearing around a strong specimen and give it room to grow as it should.

The other reason is that experiments have been done elsewhere, comparing forests where the ringing has been spread evenly throughout the wood and those where it has been clumped. The results have shown clearly that where there are groups of dead trees there has been much greater success in attracting birds such as woodpeckers and others which rely on dead wood for nesting or for food.

This explanation underlines the importance of campers and bothy users abiding by estate strictures about fires. Two wildfires this summer, one in the Luibeg and one in the Quoich, were both started by campfires – and the strong suspicion is that these were campfires which the people who lit them had thought were properly extinguished. It’s a fact appreciated by too few people that peaty ground will, itself, start smouldering under a fire and may do so for days before bursting into life, even though the fire which initiated the smouldering was otherwise completely doused.

But the danger of wildfire aside, the dead wood which is used for a campfire may be ‘dead’ in one sense, but is a valuable source of food for insects and, ultimately, birds and other wildlife. There’s no doubt a campfire has its own charm and romance but, especially in the Derry Lodge area, the arguments against campfires are overpowering.

Bothy-users too, should carry in coal rather than scour the area for deadwood, whether lying on the ground or still standing. We’ve all burnt wood in the past, and those who remember Bob Scott’s Mark II, built on the edge of a newly felled plantation, will remember weekends of blazing fires where wood could be collected almost at the door.

But in view of the efforts the estate is making to improve the health of this whole area, my feeling is that we all have a duty to give them a bit of a hand and lay off the deadwood. Be worth it to see woodpeckers up at the Derry.

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2 Responses to Killing trees for conservation

  1. Great post – especially reminding people (or even informing those who don’t know – probably many) about peat getting hot under a fire and starting to smoulder after they’ve left! I knew all the silviculture stuff though as I’m growing trees on my own patch of land and so thought it best to go to a few presentations on the subject first. Reminds me I need to thin my cherry trees though!
    Carol.

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