Caledonian Pinewood Forest

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 31st October 2018.

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Photo of Bill Bowman Bill Bowman Conservative

I was going to say that I did not know that I would be sitting next to Batman in this debate. [

Laughter

.] Finlay Carson is sitting between me and Edward Mountain, so if he is Batman, I hope that that makes Edward Mountain, and not me, Robin.

My speech is more about flower power, because I am species champion for the twinflower. I have had the pleasure of learning about the importance of the Caledonian pine forest during my visits to see the twinflower in north-east Scotland.

The twinflower has two rather attractive pink, bell-like flowers on a single, slender stem. A thicker stem below creeps across the ground to create a rather large mat of the plant. In Scotland, the twinflower is found only in Caledonian pinewoods. Large patches of twinflower are an indicator of ancient or long-established pinewood. That is mainly because the flower reproduces slowly and cannot spread quickly into new habitat, so it is generally restricted to areas of ancient pinewood.

The species has no special legal protection, so the twinflower’s future in Scotland is directly linked to the future of the Caledonian pinewoods. Many of the Caledonian pinewood remnants are made up only of ageing Scots pines, as we heard, which are reaching the ends of their lives, so the overriding priority is to secure a new generation of trees for the future.

The clearance of native woodland, continued habitat destruction and changes in woodland management have reduced the incidence of the twinflower to about 50 unrelated sites. Although the twinflower is one of Scotland’s most iconic flowers and is often regarded as an emblem of Scotland’s ancient Caledonian forests, it is under threat.

Work has been undertaken to ensure that the Cairngorms national park is a stronghold for the remaining population. The Cairngorms rare plant project, which was launched in March 2010, aimed to deliver urgently needed action and was a partnership between the Cairngorms National Park Authority, Scottish Natural Heritage and the University of Aberdeen.

Past fragmentation of native pinewoods has meant that the distances for pollinating insects to travel between patches of the twinflower are too great. That has contributed to the twinflower’s continued decline, which has resulted in the twinflower being classed as “nationally scarce” in the UK. However, the project has developed innovative new methods to move carefully selected plants closer to existing patches of the twinflower. That pioneering project, alongside projects with the objective of expanding the area of native pinewoods, such as the Caledonian pinewood recovery project, should help to ensure that twinflower populations will be safeguarded long into the future.

About 6,000 years ago, an estimated 1.5 million hectares of Scotland were covered in rich native pinewoods. Now, only about 1 per cent of the original extent of forest remains, often as small and isolated fragments. Much of the wildlife that is dependent on the forest has been lost.

Native pine woodland is categorised as a priority habitat under the UK biodiversity action plan, and many populations of twinflower in Scotland are on designated sites, so the plant enjoys a fair measure of protection. However, it is still felt that further action should be taken to improve the plant’s chances of survival in this country.

Over the past two decades, there has been welcome enthusiasm for revitalising Scotland’s old Caledonian pinewoods. Management has focused on the regeneration of pine trees in the few remaining natural woods and on creating new native woodlands. The Caledonian pinewood recovery project aims to save the remnant pinewoods and, over the next two years, Trees for Life, working in partnership with Woodland Trust Scotland, will work with landowners to promote the pinewoods’ better management, thus restoring and protecting Scotland’s unique pinewoods for the future.

Glen Derry, Glen Lui and Glen Quoich—I hope that I have pronounced that correctly—are three areas in which Caledonian pinewood recovery will be concentrated. I was lucky enough to visit those areas in July this year during my visit to the Mar Lodge estate and the twinflower sites that are found there, and I hope to go back next year to see the continued success and recovery of the area and the twinflower populations.