The old growth forests of the Pacific northwest of America are home to many of the ‘exotic’ conifers that have been planted in Britain over the last two to three hundred years. Many of the species were introduced by foresters and planted in regimental rows in dense plantations, and have earned an unjust reputation among the public. The fault lies not with the trees but with how and where they were planted. The Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis), Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), western red cedar (Thuja plicata) and western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) are all examples of beautiful coniferous trees native to areas such as Vancouver Island and the Olympic Peninsula.

As part of the research for my book, The New Sylva, I visited recently a remarkable place in Scotland where all these species are not only thriving but are forming a functioning forest ecosystem similar to that found in the Pacific northwest. Pucks Glen, owned and managed by the Forestry Commission, is located on a steep west-facing mountainside, and like its counterpart in America, is very wet. The conifers at Pucks Glen were planted in the 19th Century but have since been left mostly unmanaged. The forest is regenerating naturally and becoming an old-growth forest with the four main structures found in the Pacific northwest forests:

  1. There are large trees that store most of the biomass and form an upper canopy that towers above. Their needles and branches drop to provide nutrients to the forest floor. Their living structures host a multitude of life, from birds and mammals, to mosses, lichens and fungi. Even other trees and vascular plants grow among the crevices of their giant bark, or along horizontal branches.
  2. Large trees may die and remain standing, providing a rich source of nutrients and homes for other life forms.
  3. Trees eventually fall to the forest floor. On the steep-sided slopes, some even slip and remain living; often forming unique leaning trees in unusual locations. Dead trees rot to release nutrients and support a vast range of life especially invertebrates, fungi, mosses and lichens.
  4. The forest is multi-layered. The older trees do not form a continuous canopy and in the gaps of light between them, other trees will germinate and form small stands. Shade-tolerant species such as western hemlock will thrive in even the darkest places waiting for more light before shooting up to the upper canopy.

All these structures exist in Scotland at Pucks Glen, while another characteristic feature of these Pacific northwest forests can also be found: tree regeneration on nurse logs. The stems of large fallen trees become clad in a thick mat of mosses, and when tree seed falls on this, the seeds germinate and the resulting seedlings start to grow on top of the log. From the Pacific northwest we know that many of the seedlings will slough off, jettisoning some of the young trees with them. Eventually the host nurse log will rot away completely. Often the trees nursed on logs survive with amazing raised root systems; indicating where the nurse log once nurtured the tree when younger. Currently none of the logs at Pucks Glen are at this stage but some of the trees regenerating on nurse logs now reach 2m in height. Below are a few photos of the nurse logs at Pucks Glen.

Check out my tree photography blog at to see details about these and many more photographs of the trees and forest at Pucks Glen.


  1. That is great. What a wonderfull place! Finally finally finally we are seeing this “nonnative = bad” myth being overthrown by the facts. Dov Sax and James brown already showed, in PNAS in 2008 that this myth simply does not hold up.

    Here, In the Netherlands I see the same thing happening with some of the same species. And in some forrest, they let them be. At Emmen we have a very nice mix of Tsuga heterophylla (which wandered in from some other forests on its own), Abies alba. Picea abies, Picea Sitchensis and Psuedotsuga menziesii. The forrest is getting darker and darker and Pinus sylvatica and Quercus robur are fewer and fewer. This is such a nice forrest! Than, we have a Sitk spruce dominated forest. They assured me they would leave it alone. Researchers litterally said that this place is so full of ferns (species and numbers) it is close to the NW PAcific. I have been there, Sitka spruce regeneration is fantastic. And where I live, on the Sw coast we see similar things. Tsuga and Sitka spruce really like it, but here Abies grandis is enjoying itself really really well (I mean: 10 seedlings per square meter inspite of heavy competition from Acer species).

    Also, some extremely rare species of funghi have been foundin some Sitka spruce and Doug Fir forrest. Doug fir is probably the most abundant NW pacific species here, with massive regeneration everywhere in the country. Some trees are now 50+ metres tall and the largest trees in The Netherlands! But it seems difficult for Dutch organisations to let this happen. They demand NATIVE trees. It is the same intolerant look that so closely resmebles cultural xenophobia….I love those forests, I love the mix and especially the nice mix with our own Picea. Fagus and Abies species.

    Is your book going more in depth about this forest? Where can I exactly find it, because I want to go to Scotland and visit that place too. Thanks!

  2. Great post Gabriel. As a forester who works in the PNW of the US, I enjoyed seeing your post. That forest looks like it could be in coastal Washington, Oregon or Northern California. Nice pictures.

  3. Dear Gabriel

    I enjoyed the photos of Pucks Glen.

    Have you visited The Ritual Grove at Glenbranter? 30 years ago it was estimated at Yield Class 26. In those days it was thought that Sitka would not regenerate naturally under shelter. Some of the trees in the grove suffered windblow several years ago and nowadays you can see natural regeneration in amongst the tall trees. Just above the Ritual Grove there is a forest walk. The Rhododendron Society tried to establish a collection of Rhododendrons, I think, just before First World War One. The site was chosen because it was thought to be the most suitable outside of Nepal. Unfortunately the collection was neglected but like many sites in Cowal it contains many interesting species of ground flora.

    Have you seen La Futaie Jardinee. There are excellent examples in the high Jura in and around La Foret de La Joux

    Every forester should make a pilgrimage to the area

    Best wishes

    Tony Cowell

  4. Check out Glencoe Lochan, also FC and planted by Lord Strathcona in the nineteenth century in an attempt to recreate the Pacific NorthWest for his homesick native-American wife. Less of an oceanic feel away from the coast, but the trees are magnificent albeit the site is probably more managed than Pucks Glen.

    1. Author

      Thanks Mark – I don’t know that site but it sounds very interesting. May be next time I get to Scotland …

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