With its ancient pines and spectacular mountain scenery, the Caledonian Forest is Scotland’s most iconic landscape. It once covered a large part of the Scottish Highlands and takes its name from the Romans, who called Scotland 'Caledonia', meaning 'wooded heights'. The native pinewoods, which formed the westernmost outpost of the boreal forest in Europe, are estimated to have once covered 1.5 million hectares as a vast primeval wilderness of Scots pine, birch, rowan, aspen, juniper and other trees. On the west coast, oak and birch trees predominated in a temperate rainforest ecosystem rich in ferns, mosses and lichens. Many species of wildlife flourished in the forest, including the European beaver, wild boar, lynx, moose, brown bear and wolf, as well as several notable species of birds - the capercaillie, crested tit and the endemic Scottish crossbill, which occurs nowhere else in the world apart from the pinewoods.
Learn about the vast array of species that make up the Caledonian Forest ecosystem.
Sadly, the Caledonian Forest that we see today is much reduced in size. There has been a long history of deforestation in Scotland, and clearance of the land began in Neolithic times. Trees were cut for fuel and timber, and to convert the land to agriculture. Over the centuries, the forest shrank as the human population grew, and some parts were deliberately burned to eradicate 'vermin' such as the wolf. More recently, large areas were felled to satisfy the needs of industry, particularly after the timber supply in England had been exhausted. The widespread introduction of sheep and a large increase in the numbers of red deer ensured that once the forest was cleared, it did not return.
As a result of this human-created imbalance in the ecosystem, the remnants have become 'geriatric' forests, composed of old trees reaching the end of their lifespans, with no new ones growing to take their place. As the trees die, the forest continues to shrink, and without protection from overgrazing, most of the remnants will disappear in the next few decades. Thus, we are the last generation with the opportunity to save the Caledonian Forest and restore it for the future.
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