National Tree

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 22nd May 2013.

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Photo of Mike MacKenzie Mike MacKenzie Scottish National Party

I am pleased to speak in the debate, as a means of helping to raise the profile of that wonderful tree, the Scots pine. For some people, it is the

“little white rose of Scotland” that breaks the heart; for me it is the Scots pine.

I have yet to see a Scots pine that did not look just right in its setting. Scots pines hold my view and captivate me as few other trees do, and they brighten my travels across the Highlands and Islands, appearing now and then, like old friends. They make my heart pause and then beat a little quicker, and they make me smile. They look equally good in rain, mist, sunshine or snow, and they grow where few other things will grow. Their resilience is a symbol of the tough and enduring spirit of Scotland.

It is sad that all too few are left and that the old Caledonian forest is reduced to 1 per cent of what it once was. That is sad on a number of levels. We all know the stories of how the Caledonian forest was cut down and cleared, to make way for sheep and for other reasons. In Argyll, the wood was burned for charcoal for 100 years. Our Argyll woodlands supplied the cannonballs for Nelson’s navy. It is interesting that the woodland that was adjacent to the Bonawe ironworks was not just harvested but well managed and conserved, but outwith the immediate vicinity of the works, the forest was felled with no thought for conservation. The woodlands were destroyed over a huge area and are gone.

In the place of the old Caledonian forest, we have spruce plantations, from which timber is exported for a few pounds a tonne. There is no local added value and, these days, there are few jobs. Man has been replaced by machine, and our local sawmills, unable to invest in new technology, are gone too. Spruce plantations are deadly for biodiversity. The loss of the old forest is sad for environmental and economic reasons, as well as sentimental reasons.

I have more reason than most people to value the fine Scots pine, for I have used its wood for joists and rafters, and for floorboards and furniture. The wood excels in all those uses. It is workable, enduring and attractive. I remember the sweet, aromatic smell as I cut into it. I remember the pink and creamy hues of newly sawn planks, which mellow gracefully with time. I remember the many pleasant hours that I have spent—and hope to spend—in the company of such wonderful wood.

I can think of no species more fitting than the Scots pine as our national tree. I can see that I have a few seconds left, so I will conclude on a poetic note:

“The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.”