The Forestry Commission persuaded the then farmer, who owned the land around our cottage, to plant pine trees over every slope as far as we can see around us. There are Scots pine, Douglas Fir and Sitka Spruce and Larch. There are also some broadleaved tree plantings of native Scottish trees such as Hazel, Rowan, Willow, Alder, Juniper and Hawthorn.
Since he sold up, the new owner is also planting, but broadleaved trees, wherever suitable land can be found. An ecologist located areas within the 400 hectares to plant thousands of trees, Oak, Grey Willow, Birch, Shrubby Juniper and Alder. There is also Holly and other non native broadleaved trees which should adapt to this terrain. They are being planted as high as trees can be planted, that is, just short of 1500ft. The highest fell on this estate is 1800ft high. This fell bears the scar of recent logging of a plantation which rose to the 1500ft line. The loggers dug furrows following the logging and water runs down twice as fast as it used to into the tributaries which lead to the burn by our cottage.
It was 3.5 billion years ago that blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) were able to photosynthesise, using CO2 from the atmosphere for photosynthesis and releasing large amounts of O2. This formed the basis for Life, including growth out from the swampy waters and on to the land of plants then trees. We still see the cyanobacteria growing on trees in the form of Lichens (of which I have written earlier). The fungus and a green or blue-green algae grow together in a mutually beneficial, symbiotic, relationship.
I have also written in the previous section about the various fungal and other diseases killing trees all over the world in an epidemic.
The tree planters are having to plant those trees which are currently not threatened by these worrying symptoms. There are fewer and fewer trees to choose from. The Scottish nursery must be constantly checking the 1 year saplings for a sound health report. A great deal of money is at stake. No one wants all this effort to be wasted by planting trees which may have to be destroyed if they are carrying one of the fast spreading diseases.
The winter is the best time for planting saplings. However, we have had 4ft snow drifts and it has been impossible for the planters to reach the track which leads to the planting areas. They are all self employed and need the work, but have been laid off for weeks until the snow thawed in the last couple of days. But they are working to be completed before the warmer temperatures of Spring arrive. Rain and strong winds batter the planters as they struggle up the fells and dig the trees in place. The short days still continue, so they arrive at 8 am before sunrise at 8.15am. They leave as it is getting dark at 3pm.
The snow has set their plans back considerably. They began in December and Christmas/New Year holidays and then deep snow stopped them in January. They are about half way but Spring is not far away.
Gradually, the pine trees planted 4 years ago are growing to about 3-4ft high and already were standing out as a young forest when the snow came. The clear lines of the fells will soon be lost in deep pine plantations. This makes me so sad as the diversity and life which filled the vegetation will gradually be lost to a carpet of pine needles. I was able to tell the new owner about a slope which fills with bluebells in Spring and the pine trees were removed and replaced with wild oak. But areas where wild orchid and other delicate wild flowers have grown will be invisible in a couple of years. I feel blessed that I was able to see the wild landscape for 4 years of my life and knew what it was like, how exquisite it was, before the pine trees were put in place.
Woody Guthrie said “this land is your land, this land is my land………this land was made for you and me”…..but decisions about its ‘use’ are made by landowners and we must settle for what is left for us to enjoy. It seems to leave a landscape ‘wild’ is unacceptable to those who see it as an area crying out for some kind of ‘profitable’ development.
I do love trees, in the main. The pines will leave their scar in 30 years time after they are logged (if disease has not led to their removal before then). Then the broadleaved trees will add a varied clothing to the landscape and will attract wildlife. If Gaia is not vanishing (as James Lockwood suggests it might be due to climate change) the landscape here will become increasingly attractive once the pine plantations are a thing of the past. I will not live to see that stage, but I can dream of it.