Our only native coniferous forests, and a link to the vast boreal forests which encircle the globe, the Caledonian pinewoods occur on thin, infertile, mineral soils. Many of those in the cold, dry, east are almost completely dominated by Scots pine, whilst woods in the milder, more humid west often have much more diverse canopies with birch, rowan, alder, willow, holly and hazel.
The ancient, wide-crowned 'Granny' pine, standing majestically above the heather moorland, is an iconic feature of the Scottish landscape. Unfortunately, these are a sign of centuries of decline in the native pinewood, and may be the last remnants of an area where - due to burning and grazing - trees have not been able to regenerate for hundreds of years. Fortunately in many areas, a reduction in deer numbers is now allowing these trees to germinate and pinewoods are spreading again, especially in parts of Strathspey.
Compared with some more fertile woodland types, they do not have a large diversity of plants and animals, but they do support characteristic species which occur nowhere else. Birds such as capercaillie, black grouse and Britain's only endemic species of bird, the Scottish crossbill, can be found in these woods. Less obvious, but equally fascinating species of pinewoods include the wood hedgehog and other tooth fungi - a curious group which have teeth instead of gills on the underside of their caps. The wood hedgehog is good to eat, but many of the other species are either too tough or bitter to eat - and some are so rare that they are protected. The ground flora is often dominated by acid tolerant plants like bell heather, bilberry and crowberry, amongst which grow more delicate flowers such as lesser twayblade, creeping ladies tresses, intermediate and one-flowered wintergreen, and twinflower.
Old or dead trees and rotting wood support many rare insects including the specialist hoverfly Callicera rufa , which lays its eggs in rot holes in old pine trees.
Native pine woodlands are included in the Scottish Biodiversity List of habitats and species that Scottish Ministers consider to be of principal importance for biodiversity conservation in Scotland. They are also protected under the European Habitats Directive.
Some of the best areas of native pinewood are protected on National Nature Reserves , where you are welcome to visit at any time.
Loch Fleet : the pines of Balblair Wood were planted after a severe storm flattened a previous pinewood in 1905. Despite their recent origin, they support healthy populations of three particularly attractive flowering plants characteristic of pinewoods, creeping lady's-tresses, twinflower and one-flowered wintergreen, which are a living link to the great northern forests that girdle the planet.
Loch Maree Islands : three large islands and about 40 small ones make up this reserve. They support one of the most ancient and least disturbed fragments of native pinewood left in Scotland, with an unusual patchwork of well-grown juniper scattered throughout.
Beinn Eighe , Britain's first National Nature Reserve, features wonderful mountain scenery and ancient pinewood fragments overlooking Loch Maree. The reserve is home to typical Highland wildlife, including red deer, golden eagle and the elusive pine marten. The woodland is rich in moisture-loving mosses and liverworts, and the bogs support an outstanding variety of dragonflies.
Glen Affric , often described as the most beautiful glen in Scotland, has one of our largest remaining ancient pinewoods. Capercaillie, black grouse, crested tit, crossbill, golden eagle, red-throated diver, pine marten and otter are all present. The reserve is also a great place for hillwalking, mountain biking on forest tracks, and open water canoeing.
Cairngorms National Nature Reserves:
Abernethy is the largest native Scots pinewood in Britain. It has a unique mix of woodland and northern bog, with a great variety of homes for breeding birds such as capercaillie, crossbill, crested tit, osprey and goldeneye. Abernethy is also well-known for its many rare northern insects.
Glen Tanar is another large and fine pinewood, supporting typical pinewood plants and animals, including Scottish crossbill, capercaillie and red squirrel, blaeberry and twinflower.
Invereshie and Inshriach , on the edge of the Cairngorm plateau, where twisted and gnarled pines mark the passage from peaceful pinewood to exposed mountain. Red squirrel, pine marten, crested tit and crossbill all make their homes in this expanding woodland.
Glenmore is a haven for wildlife and outdoor enthusiasts alike, where woodland specialists like red squirrels, crossbills and crested tit can all be found and the forest is often alive with the sound of bird song.
Last updated on Wednesday 20th May 2015 at 11:18 AM. Click here to comment on this page