Millions of Trees to Be Sacrificed for Rare Scottish Bog

John Pickrell
for National Geographic News
February 7, 2003

With global forests falling at an unprecedented rate, some might question why conservationists would seek to cut down millions of trees in Northern Scotland. But an organization behind the plan says the move is precisely what's needed to help restore one of Britain's most important natural habitats.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), based in Bedfordshire, England, has plans underway to remove 2,500 acres (1,000 hectares) of bog-encroaching conifer plantations from the heart of Scotland's peatlands.

Starting in April, forests in and around the Forsinard Reserve will be removed and the rotting trees dumped in drainage ditches to protect the rare blanket bog which carpets large swaths of the counties of Caithness and Sutherland.

In addition to felling millions of trees, the RSPB is also in the process of creating more than 14,000 dams to block up artificial drainage ditches. The effort will restore the water table and open areas of the naturally treeless bog.

Tax-Incentive

Most trees were planted during the 1970s and 80s as part of a government tax-incentive plan aimed at encouraging re-forestation. Britain's forestry reserves were left heavily depleted after two World Wars.

Wealthy landowners—including country squires, television personalities, and sportsmen—could offset some of their tax bill either by buying up and planting land or planting existing property.

In the bogs in question, the tree plantings have done more harm than good, said Norrie Russell, manager of the Forsinard Reserve.

North American Sitka spruce and Lodgepole pine—which account for most of the offending trees—have not grown well in the marshy habitat. However, the trees have managed to dry-out, acidify, and crack peat; divert water flow; shade indigenous plants from the light; and encourage the colonization of non-native predators, including foxes and crows.

Forests and bogs like this just don't mix, said Russell. This project is redressing the balance back in favor of the bogs. The longer the trees remain, the more damage they will cause to the peat, he said.

Due to lobbying by conservation bodies, the tax incentive plan was abolished in the late 1980s. The RSPB purchased the Forsinard estate in 1995 with the intention of restoring it to its former glory. The bogs are one of very few naturally treeless landscapes in Britain, said Russell.

RSPBs efforts at Forsinard are part of a wider effort known as the Life Peatlands Restoration Project. Plans are also afoot to remove alien trees and restore bogs on other sites owned by conservation and government organizations, including the Scottish Natural Heritage, the U.K. government Forestry Commission, and Plantlife Scotland.

Continued on Next Page >>


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