Exploring woodlands

At this time of year many of us will enjoy a stroll in one of Scotland’s  woodlands. To help you get the most out of your visit, our blog today suggests a few special sites to explore and what you might find in them.

National Nature Reserves and other reserves under the care of voluntary conservation organisations, are amongst the best places to see some of Scotland’s most valuable native woodland.

Birch woods

Of all our native trees, the slender birch is the most abundant, and the most widespread. Capable of surviving in cold and exposed situations inhospitable to other trees, birch dominates many woods north of the Great Glen, and those bordering the high tops.

Birch woodland at Craigellachie NNR near Aviemore.

Birch woodland at Craigellachie NNR near Aviemore.
©Lorne Gill/SNH 

Many kinds of animals use birch woods for shelter and food. A range of  insects too depend on or are associated with birch trees and some Highland birch woods have rare and fascinating moths, beetles and flies. Many of these woods are rich in flowers, including species characteristic of the north of Scotland, such as wood cranesbill and globe-flower. Craigellachie and Creag Meagaidh National Nature Reserves have good example of this kind of woodland type.

Caledonian Pine Woods

Scotland possesses the only examples of native pine woodland in Britain.

Majestic red-barked pine trees dominate the canopy in the eastern Highlands, often accompanied by birch, and less frequently aspen. Heather, blaeberry and mosses form hummocky undergrowth amongst which rare flowers, such as creeping lady’s tresses and twinflower may grow. And the patient walker may be rewarded with glimpses of red squirrels, red and roe deer, pine marten, crested tit, capercaillie and the magnificent osprey. Pine woods are outstanding places for fungi and insects. This woodland type can be seen at Abernethy, Beinn Eighe and Glen Tanar National Nature Reserves.

Caledonian pines silhoutted against sunrise light on Loch Clair.

Caledonian pines silhoutted against sunrise light on Loch Clair.

Oak Woods

Oakwoods occur throughout Britain, but are particularly extensive in the western Highlands as far north as Wester Ross. They are characteristic of loch shores and the lower slopes of the hills. Many of these woods were formerly intensively coppiced and this management still shows in their structure.

Many of these woodlands fall within the international definition of temperate rainforests. The most important oak woods for wildlife are those near the Atlantic Coast. Mild, wet conditions favour the growth of rare ferns, lichens, mosses and liverworts, which grow not only on the ground, but also in the trees and over boulders. Insect and other invertebrates are usually numerous; there are many that live only on oak trees.

Good example of this type of woodland may be seen at Ariundle Oakwood and Taynish National Nature Reserves.

Alder Woods

Alder grows beside rivers and in damp situations on richer soils. In late spring and summer the ground flora in some alder woods is lush and colourful. Sedges, valerian, meadowsweet, marsh thistle and many other species can be spotted. Mound Alderwoods in Sutherland, beautifully set in the site of a former estuary is one of the biggest and best Alderwoods in Britain. The wood is virtually undisturbed and has an impressive variety of plants and invertebrates.

The Mound alder woods near Golspie.

The Mound alder woods near Golspie.
©Lorne Gill/SNH

Mixed woods with Elm, Ash and Hazel

These attractive woods are typical of gorges and outcrops of limestone or other base-rich rocks. Rassal Ashwood in Wester Ross is one of the most northerly ash woods in Britain. It has many special plants including ferns, mosses and liverworts. Ash bark provides a habitat for many lichens.

The Clyde Valley Woodlands National Nature Reserve includes some of the best examples of gorge woodland in Southern Scotland; Corrieshalloch Gorge National Nature Reserve in Wester Ross is a spectacular site in the north.



Further information:

All the NNRs mentioned in the above article have pages on the NNR-Scotland website.   The A-Z list is at http://www.nnr-scotland.org.uk/find-a-reserve/azlist/.  There is also information on woodlands on our website at http://www.snh.gov.uk/about-scotlands-nature/habitats-and-ecosystems/woodland/.

The Scottish Wildlife Trust have a blog for their Falls of Clyde reserve (part of Clyde Valley Woodlands NNR) at http://blogs.scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk/fallsofclyde/, and RSPB have a page on Loch Garten at Abernethy – http://www.rspb.org.uk/discoverandenjoynature/seenature/reserves/guide/l/lochgarten/index.aspx.


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