Scots Pine

The Scots Pine, Pinus sylvestris, (Guibhas in Gaelic) was declared Scotland’s national tree after a nation-wide consultation in 2014. There is a slight irony that it is a species common to most European countries from the Arctic Circle to the Mediterranean, but then most of these nations do call it the ‘Scottish Pine’ so perhaps we can legitimately claim it.

Most people would recognise the Scots Pine with its long, brush-like collections of needles, or know the orange-branched ‘granny pines’ that dot the Highland landscape. These survivors have somehow evaded the ravenous mouths of the sheep and deer that are currently annihilating their seedlings. If they are heirs, of the Ancient Wood of Caledon, it is important to know they have no future unless we can control these animals.

In the past, the pine was the principal Scottish timber tree. Its roots were used as ‘fir candles’, the main lighting for humble homes until the 19thC. The sap was made into pitch or distilled to make real turpentine, and the needles brewed up for an early (but effective) antiseptic. They still make a refreshing tea.

Scots Pines were often used as markers along drove roads where they may have indicated places where flocks could stay overnight. They are much loved by red squirrels who are on the way back in much of Scotland. Let’s hope we can see many more Scots Pines, too!

At Carrifran Wildwood, as you walk up the valley, high above you to the left is Rispie Lairs Corrie, and on the northeast facing crags below it, and on the lowest part of Priest Crags just to the north, are two established groups of Scots Pines. These trees are very special, as Wildwood volunteers collected the seeds over many years from a tiny group of old pines at Kielderhead that may represent the only surviving native pinewood remnant south of the Scottish Highlands. The trees at Carrifran are still small and not yet out of danger from deer. This meant not only did Alice and Philip have to climb a steep rocky slope to plant them, they also had to transport and install tree protection.

The picture on the left gives some idea of the area being planted, which can often be in the clouds. The picture on the right shows a wonky shelter. This is because stakes are very difficult to get in between the rocks. Despite the challenges, trees have established up here and are a positive addition to the landscape.

Written by Fi Martynoga with additions from Philip Ashmole about the trees at Carrifran Wildwood.