Last week, Anna and I spent a few days near Loch Awe in western Scotland. This is an area with an abundance of coastline, freshwater, woodland, hills and wildlife. Fortunately we were too late in the year for midges but we certainly experienced the changeable weather!
A few years back, before I’d started university (OK, maybe a little more than a few years!), I had a conversation with a friend about woodland restoration in the UK. We were sat on a ridge in the Hoang Lien Son mountain range of Vietnam (bear with me here), overlooking the last fragments of forest clinging on to the slopes of Mount Fansipan. In Vietnam we were witnessing the continued destruction of the country’s forests and the incredible biodiversity they supported. In Britain, the clearance of indigenous forests occurred many hundreds of years ago, leaving only remnants today.
For us in Britain, the rolling hills of grassland are emblematic of our countryside but I find such landscapes quite depressing when I see them in places where the forest has only recently been stripped away. This begs the question of how long does a man-made change in the landscape become the acceptable norm? My friend and I talked about how we’d love to see native woodland expansion back home. Not quick-growing non-native conifers but native species of broadleaf tree and associated ecological communities.
Well, woodland restoration is indeed happening. Back in Scotland and we spotted a place on the map that sounded worth a visit: Dalavich Oakwood. The Oakwood site is a semi-natural ancient woodland, much of which had been replaced with conifers in 1958. Since the mid-1980s, the conifer species have been steadily removed, creating gaps that allow natural regeneration of rowan, birch, holly and hazel; and oak within a fenced exclosure.
Wildlife at the site includes pine martens, red squirrels and pied flycatchers – all species of conservation concern in the UK. We didn’t see any of these (pied flycatchers are in Africa for the winter now anyway) but we did see pine marten scat so we can vouch for their presence!
We also found some rather impressive bracket fungi; the fruiting bodies sprouting from a fallen oak. I don’t know if this has been a particularly good year for fungi spotting or if I have just been noticing them more as they’re something I’ve devoted more of my photographic time this autumn. Most of these sites are owned by the Woodland Trust, who know a thing or two about protection and restoration of wild woods in the UK.
The Oakwood is easy to visit with a nice route taking you through the different habitats with great views through the wood. I’d certainly like to see it in the spring and summer when I would imagine it to be a great place to see pied flycatchers, redstarts and wood warblers.
Incidentally, the Woodland Trust claims that the proposed HS2 high-speed rail link will directly affect 33 ancient woodlands. So at the same time as some special sites are being restored, others are threatened with extinction. Will such concerns have as much weight as the spiralling costs of the transport initiative?
I originally posted this blog on Earth in Focus on 8th November 2013.