17th December, 2005
What remains of the once mighty Caledonian Forest is fast being eroded by an ever-increasing population of deer. Without reintroducing their natural predator, the wolf, to the wilds of Scotland, the forest and its ecosystem is in danger of disappearing forever. By Jeremy Smith
For most of the earth’s history, Scotland was covered in trees – a vast primeval wilderness of birch, rowan, aspen, juniper and Scots pines. On the west coast, oak and birch trees looked down upon a temperate rainforest of mosses, ferns and lichens. When the Romans arrived two thousand years ago, they called Scotland Caledonia, meaning ‘wooded heights’.
Today only one per cent of the once mighty Caledonian Forest – the westernmost stretch of the vast boreal forest that once covered the majority of northern Europe – remains, broken up into 35 isolated fragments. Centuries of deforestation have exacted a heavy price.
About 150 years ago, the forest reached a critical point where the balance of old to new trees became too heavily weighted in favour of the old. Ever since then the forest has grown older and older, shrinking as trees die off and are not replaced by new, younger saplings. And despite many efforts at restocking over the years, the young trees have never been allowed to grow to maturity. Their tender young shoots are being eaten away by none other than the iconic red deer.
While the postcard image may be one of a lone creature, the reality is quite...
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