The Native Woodlands of Scotland: Ecology, conservation and management
Scott McG. Wilson
Edinburgh University Press 2015 270 pp.
One of the challenges of ‘the long walk in’ is either keeping yourself or your party amused as you cover ‘the lang Scots miles’. Of course, there are the views of distant ridges, visibility permitting but an understanding of the natural world below the treeline can be rewarding. The discussions and photographs of Norwegian mountains, swathed in pine are a pointer to how things could look in Scotland if different policies are adopted. Wilson has not attempted to produce a field guide but rather a work that takes a landscape ecological approach and this focus results in a very engaging work.
Wilson has a broad audience in mind, including the rambler or amateur naturalist, making this an ideal introduction to the woodland ecosystems of Scotland. Rather than being a field guide, the book provides a ecological and historical overview in its first two chapters and then moves on to discuss a number of woodland habitats found in Scotland in separate chapters, with useful distribution information and exemplar locations to go and visit for field study. Each chapter follows a pattern of discussing the historical development of a broad habitat since the end of the last Ice Age, the historical spatial distribution, which is then contrasted with the present-day geographic and ecological distributions. A specialist section on stand dynamics follows then the sections covering the botanical and wildlife interest of particular woodland ecosystems. The specific features of woods that are dominated by particular species or species-complexes are then addressed to tease out more subtle differences in the character of the ecosystems within, for example, a hazel versus a birch wood. The final sections consider the historical management and current work in managing a redeveloping the major woodland types within Scotland.
The book delivers a lot of information without the dense referencing of a more specialist volume, although there is a good bibliography at the back that mixes general and historical works with peer-reviewed articles. Of particular value are the short explanations of current management practices that form ideal snippets for a walk leader with a non-specialist group and there are succinct discussions of some controversies in Scottish woodland management and regeneration, such as the argument about how planting versus natural regeneration around Abernethy in the Cairngorms.