Watching the naturalness return to the Carrifran Valley

ADDENDUM  May 2015

Islets on Loch Skene

In a few weeks’ time, students on the Leeds wilderness course will be going to Carrifran Wildwood up in the Moffat Hills of the southern uplands of Scotland (1). The lecture series of the first semester gave them a grasp of wildland, and the current second semester has been polishing their skills at geographical information mapping, giving them the tools to conceive and carry out project field work at Carrifran (2). The students have come up with a tantalising range of project topics, such as mapping different levels of naturalness; modelling the impacts of reforestation on present and future remoteness, and on storm runoff; the feasibility of reintroduction of golden eagle, and of lynx; and producing a walking time map for the valley.

I am very much looking forward to this fieldtrip, as the philosophy and principles behind the ecological restoration of the Carrifran valley bring a welcome return to a clarity of objectives for wildland that have vanished from the project that was for many years used as the location for the fieldtrip. I’ve written before of the repeated betrayals at the Ennerdale valley, and why I won’t ever go back there (3). “Wild Ennedale” has the distinction of being the most over-promoted, but critically unscrutinised restoration project in England, the subterfuge over the massive expansion of agri-environment funded cattle grazing penetrating throughout the valley leading to our decision to scout other locations for the field trip (4).

There is nothing wild about Ennerdale

The betrayal, however, keeps coming. I have a watchful eye on the increasing incidence of livestock exclusion in targeted areas of the upland commons in the Lake District to allow restoration of moorland vegetation and woodland creation, so that water quality is improved and downstream flooding reduced (see slides 7-10 in (4)). By chance, in January, while updating my list of instances of livestock exclusion, I came across a report from 2010 that had identified opportunities for woodland creation in the Lake District to reduce water pollution from sediment runoff and alleviate downstream flooding. The mapping showed the uplands of the northern side of Ennerdale valley to be a priority area for woodland creation in the wider catchment to reduce sediment delivery to watercourses (see Map 17 in (5)). The uplands on the south side of the valley were also a priority, but the extensive areas of livestock commons and SSSI designations were shown there as constraints to woodland creation. To my surprise, the mapping for the potential for new floodplain woodland also picked out - as a glowing red blob - an area of Ennerdale valley along a high energy section of the River Liza (see Map 20 in (5)). This area is specifically targeted in the Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) funding agreement of 2013 for scrub removal and restoration of grassland by cattle grazing (AG00478850) and thus will never now see a single tree naturally regenerate (3). The benefit of floodplain woodland developing there, with many low branches and multiple stems in a relatively open woodland, would be to increase “hydraulic roughness” and so encourage pollutant deposition and slow and delay flood flows.

To understand the disconnect here, you should know that the report on opportunity mapping for woodland creation in the Lake District was carried out for Natural England and the Forestry Commission by staff of Forest Research, the research agency of the Forestry Commission (6). A large part of the Ennerdale valley (47sq km) is owned by the Forestry Commission, the valley sides being covered with conifer plantation up to an altitude of 300m asl. It was the Area Forester of the Forestry Commission who is responsible for Ennerdale that, together with the local Natural England officer, cooked up the HLS agreement, and without consulting the advisory group (3). It would seem that they did not also think it important, back in late September 2010, to tell the advisory group about the potential for flood plain woodland identified in the Forest Research report while the group spent three days reviewing the Stewardship Plan and getting drenched during a day-long field visit to different areas of the valley (7).

I have pointed out before the lack of floodplain woodland in Britain (8) and so it is galling that the creation of probably 40-50ha of new floodplain woodland at Ennerdale lost out to the conservation industry obsession of agri-environment funded cattle grazing (a satellite view of that probable area is shown in slide 13 in (4)). This is particularly galling since Richard Hart, a Leeds student who did an extended project on the hydrology of the Ennerdale valley in 2013, contrasted the artificial channel straightening of the River Liza at its western end to maximise the size of the grazing area, with the original, wandering course that he identified from satellite images. Richards’s message was that the natural river system should be reinstated by removing the channelling, followed by non-intervention management of the land, and which would lead to that floodplain woodland developing (see slides 11 to 15 in (4)).

I grieve also to realise that when the opportunity mapping for floodplain woodland was carried out, the study’s authors would not have had updated data from Ennerdale that would have made them aware that areas of plantation woodland upstream in the valley had been clear felled. A constraint of their mapping method was to disregard areas that were already wooded. Thus a further 30ha or so of potential new floodplain woodland could have been identified alongside the River Liza. Some of these clear felled areas were originally planted with native trees, others fenced to allow for natural regeneration of trees. It would not surprise you to know that these areas are now also targeted for restoration of grassland under the HLS and are grazed with cattle so that they also will never see another tree naturally regenerate. You might want to consider to what purpose these cattle also have access to about 400ha and more of the plantation conifer forest on the sloping valley sides, euphemistically described as “mixed forest” in the HLS agreement. The HLS application describes the farming system in use in the valley as a “beef and sheep enterprise”. The preposterous aspiration given in the application for HLS was “to assist with the development of new natural habitats in the upper Ennerdale valley through extensive cattle grazing”. There is nothing wild about Ennerdale now, except the desperate emotions that it raises in me, at the crushing disappointment that this publicly owned land will no longer be fulfilling any aspiration for wildness.

Approximations of the natural ecosystems

I first visited Carrifran Wildwood in September 2008 (9). It was the last field visit of a conference on wildlife comeback held at Findhorn by the Wildland Network. By that time, I was so underwhelmed with the Wildland Network that I couldn’t face going to the conference, but I really wanted to join the field visit to see how such a large scale restoration was proceeding, especially since I had always found the vision of the Wildwood Group behind it to be inspiring. The Group saw the project as a response to the realisation that in areas where natural ecosystems had almost entirely disappeared, conservation of surviving relict fragments needed to be accompanied by more positive action. Thus there was a compelling case in areas of extensive ecological degradation for re-creation - as far as this was possible - of some areas of natural habitat. The backdrop to this aspiration was their uneasiness about their Southern Uplands location in Scotland, a place they thought naked and ecologically devastated (10). As they noted, a few people had been aware of this issue for some time, pointing to the writings of McVean and Lockie from the late 60s on ecology and land use in upland Scotland (10):
"A well-farmed and thoroughly domesticated countryside and untouched, natural terrain with its vegetation and wildlife complexes intact can both be deeply satisfying. But an inherently infertile region devastated by deforestation and repeated burning, largely depopulated and then opened to heavy and uncontrolled sheep grazing is a distressing sight to anyone with some appreciation of ecological principles"

While the Wildwood Group appreciated that it was unrealistic to turn the clock back 6,000 years, they were convinced that they should try to provide “an opportunity for children and adults in the future to experience - in at least a few places - approximations of the natural ecosystems of their local areas or of other regions that they visit” (10). Their vision was to restore an entire catchment area, a whole upland valley, with a full spectrum of natural vegetation zones of the Southern Uplands by establishing all the species of trees and shrubs that were present in the area prior to major human impact. The commitment was that the woodland would not be commercially exploited. Access would be open to all, but the impact of humans would be carefully managed. By January 2000, the 665ha of the Carrifran Burn watershed, a U-shaped valley with an altitude range of 165-820m, were purchased with 80% of the cost raised by public subscription (10). The vegetation of the valley at that time consisted of “various open, short-cropped grass communities, very typical of long grazed and/or burned upland habitats in the British Isles” (11). As such, the valley was almost entirely denuded of trees, and natural regeneration was very scarce due to grazing and browsing pressure combined with the lack of local seed sources. There was a relict riparian scrub, a few ash, downy birch, rowan, willow, hazel, hawthorn, holly, dog rose and burnet rose surviving in precipitous places by the burn, along with ivy and honeysuckle, and a clump of bird cherry hanging on below a waterfall (11). These relict fragments of woodland vegetation at Carrifran constituted a small but invaluable reservoir of woodland plants, and species diversity, the seeds collected from them being the source for many of the trees and shrubs that were planted as the restoration proceeded. However, before planting could start, the centuries of the vegetation being kept in check by the hungry mouths of sheep, goats and cattle, and the scorching flames of muirburn, had to be overturned. Thus even if the proposed tree planting had failed, the cessation of grazing pressure would still be worthwhile, as it would provide the opportunity for various relict herbs, ferns, trees, shrubs and bryophytes to escape their refuge in those areas inaccessible to grazing (11).

The metaphysical and biophysical tenets of ecological restoration

Establishment of the massive number of trees and shrubs planted in the valley (>0.5m) became such a dominant theme during the field visit, the level of intervention that this represented often being seen as a negative factor in comparative reviews (see for instance (12)). On reflection, Carrifran addresses many of the metaphysical as well as the biophysical tenets of ecological restoration. I loathe the use of the word abandonment when in relation to ecological restoration that occurs after relinquishment of extractive use of farmland, freighted as it is with a negative cultural connotation. Moreover, there is a vein of cultural adherence, an anthropocentric conceptualisation that objects to the disappearance and loss of the historical artefacts of cultural heritage and use under the cover of regenerating native trees (13,14). Environmental philosopher Ned Hettinger counters those who assert that human modified landscapes are now the ideal, that the “traditional environmentalism that places the value of naturalness at its centre is dead” (15). He starts simply, noting that “nature need not return to some original, baseline state or trajectory for naturalness to be enhanced; the lessening of human control and influence on the course of nature is sufficient”. To those who say “there is no going back” he replies that it “does not mean that the only path forward is a thoroughly managed future increasingly devoid of naturalness. That leaving nature alone to head off into a trajectory that we do not specify is itself ostensibly a management decision does not show that this trajectory is a human-controlled or human-impacted one”. I agree with Hettinger when he concludes that this focus on cultural adherence is a “failure to appreciate the profound role nonhuman nature continues to play on Earth, and an arrogant overvaluation of human’s role and authority”

I should rehabilitate the word abandonment to have a positive connotation, a virtuous outcome from what may have been the involuntary as well as voluntary withdrawal of extractive use, but I think I have been beaten to it by a couple of vegetation scientists who came up with the term “abandonment ecology”(16). As I noted when exploring the natural vegetation of England, the concept of potential natural vegetation (PNV) comes in for criticism (17). These scientists met the criticisms head on, concerned that arguments supporting naturalness would be weakened if the concept was discarded. They considered the difference between original natural vegetation and what may be the natural vegetation today due to changes in environmental conditions caused by human influence. Thus while pollen evidence gives an indication of what vegetation species will have been present in a particular area in the past, these species may or may not survive local extinctions that are happening now or in the past, so that past existence does not necessarily mean suitability today. This issue is compensated within PNV because, as the scientists noted, the phytosociological communities on which is based "depict not only a natural scenario according to the extant vegetation types and current environmental factors, but also an ecological description of the territory in terms of extant plant communities"

Another consideration was the criticism levelled at the concepts of succession and climax on which PNV is based, that processes in vegetational development are much less deterministic than those concepts allow (18) leading to an unpredictability of ecological succession and hence the validity of any prediction about its trajectories and outcomes. The scientists noted that an inadvertent and contemporary experiment was already underway because of the abandonment of areas in many European countries, particularly in mountainous regions. A secondary succession had been triggered in a substantial part of these territories, and which has revealed that in a relatively short period of 40–50 years after extractive use ceased, vegetation develops towards maturity at a faster pace than expected (16):
“Perhaps we will not need to wait too long to see good examples of ecosystems changing towards maturity in order to glimpse the final or mature stages of secondary succession in vegetation, and the real impact of natural or human-induced disturbance. The experiment, provided unintentionally by socio-economic changes and inscribed in what we could call ‘abandonment ecology’, is in motion”

A stage of spontaneous perpetuation and wildwood structure

In the context of Carrifran, the decision about which species are native to the site depended on three main sources of evidence: pollen analysis, historical records and inference from the relict species in the valley (see earlier) as well as from remaining ancient woodland fragments in the area (10). It then becomes a question of how they should be established. While natural colonisation could play a part after exclusion of grazing, the small numbers in the relict population would act as a constraint on the process. Moreover, not all of the potential native species were present within that population, nor could they be provided by colonisation from sources in the immediate area outside of the valley. In this sense, the valley had fallen into a “landscape trap” (19) an entire landscape shifted into a state in which major functional and ecological attributes have become depauperated from the centuries of grazing, burning, and leaching of soil minerals, a state from which it would be difficult to return without assistance. Thus woodland restoration at Carrifran became a process of reinstatement of species, an ecological restoration based on a substantial program of tree and shrub planting.

It was Philip Ashmole, a significant force in the Wildwood Group, who first took me to task about using the word ”rewilding” since he saw that as being associated with the reinstatement of mammalian species in the “cores, corridors, and carnivores” approach of Soulé and Noss (20). Philip believes this does not address the reinstatement of the structural elements of vegetation that have been lost from our denuded land, and thus Carrifran was for him about an ecological restoration, and not “rewilding”. Moreover, it is important to consider the relative timescales involved in reaching a spontaneous, self-replicating population of reinstated species in these two circumstances. Thus a carnivore like the wolf reaches sexual maturity within two years, mating once every year between January and March (21). The gestation period is about 63 days, and the average litter size is 5 or 6, born in a den, such as a rock cavity or a hole in the ground. Wolves live for up to 17 years. On the other hand, an oak tree does not produce acorns until it is 40-60 years old, with the optimum seed bearing years being 80-120+ years (22). Acorn production varies from year to year, often rhythmically, from none to over 50,000 and occasionally 90,000 per year. The expected life span of oak can be 700-1,000 years. Birch, hazel, rowan and alder produce their first seed at an earlier age, from 10 to 15 years, with ash and elm being between 20-40 years. Trees such as birch, aspen, willow and elm produce a large and fairly constant number of seeds each year (around 250,000 in alder). Ash may live 200-300 years, but hazel and birch may only live 80 years (23). It is thus not expected that the Carrifran Wildwood, its natural development dependent on the regenerative abilities of the different tree species present on the site, and the availability of suitable microsites for regeneration (rotting nurse logs; bare soil in tip-up mounds and pits, and root plates, from windthrown trees) will reach a stage of spontaneous perpetuation and wildwood structure for probably several centuries.

Knowing what species are to be reinstated is one thing, knowing where to put them and in what combinations requires greater analysis. In a parallel to PNV, there is a system developed by the Forestry Commission for matching tree species to appropriate site conditions. Ecological Site Classification (ESC) is a decision support system for species choice based on an assessment of climate (elevation, windiness and temperature) soil moisture and soil nutrient content (24). At its simplest, ESC is software that will determine appropriate species within a woodland community that is ecologically suited to the location, based on the National Vegetation Classification (NVC) (25). This was compared by the Wildwood Group with another approach, using guidance for native woodland establishment in Scotland according to an open ground NVC survey (10). The two approaches agreed on four woodland communities, and a further four were considered possible from the NVC approach (W1, W4, W7, W9, W11, W17, W19 and W20). Given this outcome, the overall planting plan was juniper, downy birch and a variety of willows at higher altitudes; a mixed downy birch - sessile oak woodland on the slopes with some hawthorn, hazel and rowan; and a mixed broadleaved woodland on the valley floor with ash, pedunculate oak, silver birch, wych elm, hawthorn, holly, and hazel.

Within that framework, implementation followed the planting of a number of clumps of single species to make up the composition of the woodland community, but leaving open areas to provide an opportunity for woodland expansion through natural regeneration in the longer term. A variety of different planting patterns, densities etc. were employed, varying the size and location of clumps; spacing in adjacent clumps; spacing within clumps; size of gaps between clumps; and size and location of larger open areas. Areas of denser planting were made on the basis of accelerating canopy closure and therefore assist in weed control, as well as providing greater opportunity for the colonization of shade-tolerant plants and animals. The assumption is that the structure and composition of the woodland will therefore be determined by the self-assembly of species from intermixing of later generations, and by the intensity and frequency of natural forms of disturbance, such as windthrow, localized flooding, tree fall etc., and its impact on natural succession.

A clarity of vision and purpose

The level of survey, planning and design that has gone into the restoration has been exemplary, and was detailed in the Management Plan (10). It was also brought into colourful life in the book written by the Ashmoles with the Wildwood Group in 2009, where the characters of the Wildwood story explain their contributions to the project from its earliest days in 1993, of meetings and various site visits to develop the vision and identify, fundraise and purchase a location, fence it in its entirety and remove feral goats out of the valley, the seed collecting in the valley and other locations nearby with the right provenance, the completion of the bulk of the planting, and the strategies for accumulating deadwood (26). It is a compendium of team working by an astonishing array of talented and professional people who gave their time voluntarily and, as a group, are marked by a clarity of vision and purpose. You should read this book if you want a reference work on how to conceive and undertake woodland re-establishment on a wide range of elevation so that a full spectrum of natural vegetation zones is restored, including going up high to re-establish a tree-line, an ecological transition zone that survives hardly anywhere in Britain. You could also read this book for the inspiration it delivers, and the hope it gives to the future of natural landscapes. Carrifran was thus an obvious choice in seeking a new location for the student field trip, now that the idiots have turned the whole of the Ennerdale valley into a cattle farm.

A group of us went up to Carrifran last September to check for local hostel accommodation and reacquaint ourselves with the valley. We had a very enjoyable day, shown around by Philip Ashmole, and with the new project officer Lynn Cassells, seeing the undoubted progress in tree growth since we were last there six years ago. The developing canopy formed by the earliest plantings showed evidence of the resultant shade exerting an influence on the ground layer, and tree growth stretching up the valley is now a significant part of the visual scene. A number of things stood out – the opportunity to see roseroot (Sedum rosea) in the valley without having to swing off a rope (it is often only found in rock crevices and inaccessible ledges); we were also shown the small native woodland refuges on steep slopes of the upland ash - hazel scrub woodland of Henderland Bank SSSI (27) and sub-montane willow scrub with rowan, hazel and birch of Craigdilly SSSI (28) that are outside the valley, plus the coniferised fragment of woodland with many native species of trees and shrubs above the burn in Gameshope valley that was behind a fence to prevent sheep from committing suicide, all sources of inspiration for Carrifran that are described in the book. Refuges were pretty much a theme of the day, since there were habitat refuges in the valley that were associated with its geology – the plants in rock crevices, the tall herb communities on inaccessible ledges and gullies, and the plants on high level screes, all escaping the centuries of sheep grazing. Of the ones I could easily see, like the roseroot, there was the particularly striking bright coloured and crinkly-leaved parsley fern (Cryptogramma crispa). I’ve seen a lot of parsley fern along the ledges of Falcon Clints in Upper Teesdale, an area included in a SAC that is designated for plants in crevices on acid rocks (29) as is also designated for the Moffat Hills SSSI (30). The Moffat Hills SSSI is also designated for tall herb communities, as well as acidic scree and plants in crevices on base-rich rocks – all of which are to an extent refuge habitats. The remnant tree populations that we saw in the valley in some of these refuges, and especially clinging to the slopes above Carrifran Burn, had been used for seed collecting and raising of trees that had then been planted back. As we walked around, noting all the progress, it became obvious that a second book on the Wildwood and subsequent books would be needed to keep step with the transformation of the valley.

Man with chainsaw

Coming back from Carrifran, I kept thinking how lucky I was to live with so much ancient woodland within walking distance from my back door, compared to the almost complete absence in the Moffat Hills. However, within days, I had a really hammering blow. What I had constantly feared - man with chainsaw - had been felling trees along the beck in Shipley Glen. It was a poor job, done insensitively, and totally un-needed since there was no great safety issue - it’s an informal path that is accepted as not being devoid of hazard. This is what happens when stupid people feel compelled to manage everything. It made one of my favourite walking spots toxic, chipping away at my spirit, leaving me enraged and feeling totally powerless. Scarcely a day goes by without some new bad news about people trashing wild nature, but it hits really hard when it's so close to home. When I had calmed down, I determined to hold this action to account, by putting in a Freedom of Information (FOI) request for details of management operations in this Bradford Council owned woodland (31).

I had previously come across a felled oak in this woodland a couple of years ago. It was not dead, as is confirmed now by the growth of new stems arising from the stump. This oak was beginning to contribute to the standing dead wood of the woodland, in providing dead branches as well as cavities, even while the canopy of the tree was alive. The felled oak was logged (cut into shorter lengths) the logs causing a public hazard since they were deposited on a slope without any restraint. They have since mostly rolled a long way to the bottom of the slope. The unlogged tree would have stayed in place. Fearing a connection, I warned the local moorland Friends group to leave the woodland alone, as it is not part of the registered common of the moor (32). It was the un-entitled encroachment of commoner’s sheep off the moor over many years that has degraded the ground flora of this woodland, such that it has few Ancient Woodland Indicator plants. I told them that this woodland is one of the reference sites that was used in the development of the National Vegetation Classification System for woodland (33) and should not be put at risk by the actions of uninformed people.

The woodland is in a narrow clough valley cut through gritstone and with gritstone outcrops and scattered rocks. Loadpit Beck flows down through the valley over rocks, falling 80m over a length of 1.3km. The beck has trout, and attracts dippers, heron, kingfisher and wagtails. While oak communities (W10 and W16) make up most of the woodland area, there are parts with the two ash communities (W8 and W9) and the alder community (W7) lines the beck (34). There are a couple of lime that don’t fit into any of the communities. The ground layer has ferns, bilberry and bramble, the latter two recovering since sheep no longer come off the moor. There are very few if any of the common woodland wildflowers, and it may be hard to recapture them, but a few small, single patches of less common woodland wildflowers can be found, including cow wheat, sanicle and bugle. Golden saxifrage grows in the wetter areas, as does yellow archangel, bistort, wall lettuce (Lactuca muralis) a patch of woodruff, and a small number of tutsan hang on (Hypericum androsaemum). Roe deer can occasionally be seen travelling through the wood.

The visual intrusion of tree cutting

While I was waiting for a response to the FOI request, I had to do something to reduce the visual impact of the felled alder trees. Evidence of tree cutting is one of the biggest detractors of naturalness in woods, and I have spent years struggling to remove fallen branches away from well used paths for fear of chainsaw man coming along to tidy them. It nearly broke me hefting the larger logs upslope to hide them behind rocks, and disperse the brash. The larger sections of trunk that I could not move showed the green spray paint spots of whoever marked these trees out for despoilment. Where I could, I rolled them so that the spot was hidden underneath. It was only after I reminded the council that the statutory time for response of 20 working days had passed, that I got the astonishing reply - that no works had been carried out in the woodland by the council during the period I had specified (31). They did confirm that all the council’s woodlands had been certified since 2013 under the UK Woodlands Assurance Scheme (UKWAS) and sent me a copy of a management plan for the wood that had been undertaken with funding from the Forestry Commission under the England Woodland Grant Scheme (35). The description of the wood in this management plan is derisory (36). The Forestry Commission funding covered the production of management plans for all the councils woodlands, which is usually a prelude to UKWAS certification, and which in turn smoothes the way for the council to exploit its woodland for the carbon neutral nonsense of a “supply of biomass fuel” for its “wood fuel boiler” (see pg. 11 (35))

So if the council did not fell the trees, then it should have been aware of any third party management operations in the woodland, and at some point to have given authority to that third party to undertake such operations. This is particularly so, since it would be impossible for the council to execute its obligations under UKWAS certification without monitoring those operations. As the council appeared to be avoiding any responsibility for knowledge of the tree felling, I requested an internal review of the response to the FOI (31). The waiting carried on, past the statutory period again, before I got a response that the council was not aware of any tree felling authorised or otherwise, but asking me to specify the exact location of the felling. It was after I replied to this that a council work order popped up from their database system, that had not appeared when the council first looked five months ago (38). The return of this one work order did not cover the entirety of my FOI request, but I let that go while explaining the issue at stake, the judgement that had led to management operations in Shipley Glen, and the insensitivity of the work (31).

The importance of deadwood

Under “Maintenance of biodiversity and ecological functions” of UKWAS there is a requirement to provide standing and fallen deadwood habitats (section 6.2.2 (39)). Actions in accumulating deadwood volumes include “Keeping standing dead trees”. The guidance on actions for deadwood in UKWAS notes that the most valuable areas within which to develop deadwood habitats are where linkages can be made with existing deadwood habitats to develop ecological connectivity over time. These areas include “Riparian or wet woodland”. The two alders that were felled last September under the council work order were also beginning to contribute to the standing dead wood and, as alders, they were clearly riparian trees next to the waterline. The UKWAS standards do add a caveat to the retention of standing deadwood when it may be in conflict with the safety of the public. However, these alders were on an informal path along the waterline and, over the 25 years that I have been walking this wood, there have been a number of trees that have fallen across the beck along its course in the woodland. The earlier oak that was felled was also not in a particularly high use area of the woodland.

Dead wood in parts of the stems or branches of standing trees, as well as standing and fallen dead trees are indicators for naturalness in ancient woodland, as are old trees with rough bark structures, severe crown damage, large cavities, clefts in the stem, open bark gaps and bark bags, all of which provide habitat and home for mosses, lichen, fungi, insects, birds and mammals. You don’t need to put up bird boxes in truly ancient woodland. Standing and fallen dead wood is created by tree mortality, which in natural forests is caused by the process of ageing, fire, wind, snow breakage, drought, competition, insects and pathogens. In all cases, the council felling in the woodland not only resulted in a loss of standing deadwood, but also in the significant unwelcome visual intrusion of obvious human management, as seen as the sawn logs, in what is essentially a self-guiding habitat. I am not alone in thinking this since, ironically, Bradford Council’s own Supplementary Planning Document on Landscape Character has these words (40):
“Woodland is perceived as a very ‘natural’ landscape because it is the landcover that would have existed before man arrived here, and the landcover that results when man ceases to work the land. It can provide a very concentrated experience of the natural world in that it can be valuable habitat for a wide variety of wild plants, birds, animals and the enclosure of the trees hides views of other land more influenced by man”

Mark Fisher 2 April 2015

Islets on Loch Skene
During the fieldtrip, I trekked up alongside the waterfalls at Grey Mare’s Tail, following the course of Tail Burn to reach Loch Skene. I wanted to see the tiny islet described in the Carrifran Wildwood book where twenty two years ago Philip Ashmole had looked down on “scrubby birch trees” surviving there where they were safe from sheep and goats (26). It was these remnant trees that Philip drew inspiration from for the re-creation of the full spectrum of natural vegetation zones of the Borders. The waterfalls in the gorge were impressive, but the three feral goats, one a kid, and the sheep on the hillsides explained why the land away from the gorge was bare, a few twiggy trees hanging onto the steeper slopes. The view of the loch suddenly opens up on the trail through the moraine mounds after the gorge, a long inky blue, the scree-covered Loch Craig rising sharply at the head of the loch. It is not an islet that you first see, but a rock outcrop with a stunted bushy birch that appears to have a stick nest in it. Another rock outcrop sits above the water further up the loch, the trunk of the solitary tree there heavily bent over. Your eyes are drawn to them. Continuing up Mid Craig by the side of the loch to the bare highlands above, I got that lost feeling I have whenever I break a rule nowadays and hill walk. It was a relief to traverse this empty uplands to find Carrifran, and slide down a steep slope covered in woodrush into the valley. Fifteen years ago, that woodrush would not have been there.

3 May 2015

(1) Carrifran Wildwood

(2) GEOG3180: Management of Wilderness and Global Ecosystems, Year 3, Course Structure, BSc Geography, Univeristy of Leeds

(3) Large carnivores as the focal species for reinstatement of natural processes in Britain, Self-willed land November 2014

(4) Renaturing upland vegetation and hydrology – excluding livestock grazing, WRi November 2013

(5) Broadmeadow, S., and Nisbet, T. (2010). Opportunity mapping for woodland creation to reduce diffuse sediment and phosphate pollution in the Lake District. Final report for the Woodland Trust, Natural England and Forestry Commission England$file/Lake_District_sediment_final_report_2010.pdf

(6) About Forest Research, Forestry Commission

(7) Wild Ennerdale Advisory Group Meeting, YHA Ennerdale 28th – 30th September 2010

(8) Flooding and cherry picking, Self-willed land February 2014

(9) Woodland creation - in need of strategic direction and larger scale, Self-willed land November 2008

(10) Carrifran Wildwood Project Native woodland restoration in the Southern Uplands of Scotland Management Plan Prepared by the Wildwood Group of the Borders Forest Trust October 2000

(11) Adair, S. (2001) Carrifran Woodland Fragments: A brief site description and survey of relict woodland in the valley of Carrifran. Survey & Report for The Ecological Management Committee, The Carrifran Wildwood Group, December 2001

(12) McMorran, R., Price, M.F. and McVittie, A. (2006). A review of the benefits and opportunities attributed to Scotland’s landscapes of wild character. Scottish Natural Heritage. Commissioned Report No. 194 (ROAME No. F04NC18).

(13) Davies, A.L., Hamilton, A. & Ross, A. (2006) Back to the future: historical legacies and future implications. Conference proceedings - The Future of Biodiversity in the Uplands, 8th December 2006, Battleby Centre, Perth

(14) Davies, A. (2008) Review of the historical environmental changes in the UK uplands relevant to management and policy. Funded by the ESRC & RELU. April 2008, updated January & July 2009

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