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Posts tagged ‘Scotland’

Pacific northwest forest ecosystem in Scotland

Sphagnum moss

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.

Caledonian Pinewood in Winter

December 14, 2012

Gabriel Hemery

Giant redwoods at Benmore

December 8, 2012

Gabriel Hemery

Day three of our Scottish Drawing Expedition was one of giants. We visited Benmore Botanic Garden in Argyll, Scotland, to see the huge conifers planted there from the 19th Century.

Our main interest was an avenue of giant redwood (Sequoiadendron giganteum), which are the largest outside of their native California. Planted in 1863, many of the trees are over 50m tall.

Drawing the giant redwoods at Benmore

Sarah Simblet drawing the giant redwoods at Benmore

Our thanks to Peter Baxter, Curator of Benmore Botanic Garden, and Ian Edwards of Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh for their support.

Birch in the Scottish Highlands

December 7, 2012

Gabriel Hemery

Day two of our Scottish drawing expedition took us to the southern shore of Loch Rannoch. We were in search of a treescape that would enable us to feature birch and water together. We had a specific place in mind for where the drawing will feature in the book.

The weather was cold, as it was yesterday when we visited the Black Wood of Rannoch, but it was sleeting too and the sun didn’t appear all day. Sarah worked from the shelter of a tent, as the paper had to be kept dry at all times. She developed the drawing first with pencil, allowing the various elements of the treescape to be brought together.

Sarah Simblet working in pencil

Sarah Simblet working on the pencil under-drawing before adding ink

Gabriel Hemery working on The New Sylva

Gabriel Hemery working on The New Sylva on the shore of Loch Rannoch

Sarah Simblet working on the drawing of birch

Sarah Simblet working on the drawing of birch and the loch shore from the shelter of a tent during a bitterly cold December day.

Scots Pine in the Black Wood of Rannoch

December 6, 2012

Gabriel Hemery

Yesterday our Scottish Drawing Expedition for The New Sylva got underway. In search of Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris) we had travelled to one of the last remaining and best examples of Caledonian Pinewood: the Black Wood of Rannoch, in Central Scotland.

High above Loch Rannoch, on an undulating heather-clad ridge, we found the perfect subject; an ancient ‘granny pine’ set amongst a backdrop of younger pine, downy birch (Betula pubescens) and rowan (Sorbus aucuparia).

Brilliant Winter sun added a glowing aura to the red bark of the pine stems and branches. The pinewood was carpeted in freshly-fallen snow and perfectly quiet. Temperatures remained below freezing throughout the short day, dropping as low as -5°C, but multiple layers of clothing just about kept us warm (see the photo of Sarah three-hoods Simblet below).

Sarah Simblet drawing Scots Pine in Black Wood, Rannoch

Sarah Simblet drawing Scots Pine in Black Wood, Rannoch

Black Wood is a precious and unique habitat. We were not fortunate enough to see Scottish Wildcat, Crossbill or Red Squirrel on this occasion but were accompanied by troops of Tits and Goldcrests all day, while a lone Robin kept watch for our lunch crumbs.

Tomorrow we are in the Caledonian Pinewoods again; this time in search of birch.

A Scottish drawing expedition

November 17, 2012

Gabriel Hemery

The authors are very much looking forward to an expedition to Scotland to capture some of the nation’s most spectacular trees and forestscapes. In December we will be spending four days researching and drawing various subjects, including the iconic Caledonian pinewood forests. We will post news and pictures of progress here when we can find wifi in-between the remote locations where we will be working.

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