Kate Holl, SNH Woodland Adviser, recently visited a tiny island off the west coast of Scotland. The island has no herbivores such as deer, allowing the plantlife to grow wilder than anywhere else in Scotland!
On a perfect summer’s morning earlier this year I set off to visit the tiny island of Eilean nam Meann, off Port Ramsay on the Isle of Lismore that woodland ecologist Neil Mackenzie had told me about last year. Unlike most of the rest of Scotland, there are no deer on this island. The local resident sheep are well managed and do not have access.
Eilean nam Meann itself is little more than an offshore rock, but as you can see from the picture above it is crowned with woodland. Lying as it does in the inter-tidal zone, it is cut off from the main island twice a day by the sea, and so we had to wait until low tide when the sea receded sufficiently for us to cross over to the island.
We knew we had only a few hours before the tide would turn and start coming in again, and not actually wanting to be stuck on the island for 12 hours (!) we scuttled across the mud and clambered over the seaweed clad rocks up to the woodland edge. As you can see from the picture below, we were confronted with an almost impenetrable mantel of thorn scrub encircling and protecting the woodland.
Bramble, hawthorn and dog rose thorns tore at our clothing as we pushed through and fell into the cool green interior of the woodland. As our eyes accustomed to the light we were amazed at what we saw, for the woodland opened up to reveal a beautiful green sanctuary carpeted with wild flowers: bluebell, pignut, wood anemone, sanicle, primrose, bugle, yellow pimpernel, herb robert, wild garlic, stitchwort all in flower, together with dozens of lovely twayblade orchids:
Climbing plants such as ivy and honeysuckle, absent from most Scottish woods because grazing animals find them so good to eat, have pulled themselves up into the canopy where they can flower and fruit.
The woodland itself was mainly comprised of hazel with ash, and occasional oak, with holly, hawthorn and sycamore, all of which (apart from the oak) were regenerating prolifically under the canopy.
What a joy to discover this wood, and to see the proof that, where herbivore numbers are low enough or absent, the flowers and the understorey can develop just like those woods in Iceland, Norway, France and the Isle of Wight that I visited last year. There could indeed be “flowerful” woods in Scotland. It’s just that most don’t ever get the chance, but really, how much more enjoyable would a walk in your local wood be if there were just some more flowers….?
More information about Kate’s Churchill Fellowship and the research she has done into this subject is available here.