Rothiemurchus, 1650–1900

T. C. Smout, Alan R. MacDonald and Fiona Watson

in A History of the Native Woodlands of Scotland, 1500-1920

Published by Edinburgh University Press

Published in print November 2004 | ISBN: 9780748612413
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780748653331 | DOI:
Rothiemurchus, 1650–1900

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This chapter examines how woodland management decisions worked out on the ground with a case study of Rothiemurchus, considered the most famous and still outwardly the most pristine wood. The history of Rothiemurchus is that of a wood continuously exploited. In the century and a half from about 1650, the exploitation of the woods was characterised by the spasmodic attempts by outsiders, or by the laird's family, to reach a southern market. These efforts failed to bring sustained profit, and probably had little impact on the woods. It was also characterised by the continuous trafficking in wood by local people, either buying from the laird or, more probably and commonly, operating with permission from the laird and selling on, downriver or overland. The nineteenth century, by contrast, was dominated by spasms of heavy exploitation by the landowners or their creditors, including two episodes approaching clear-fell, but also accompanied by the first efforts of the owners to protect the forest from domestic stock. At this time local people had no stake in the forest except as employees – fellers, haulers, sawyers or floaters – and the marketing of the wood was in the hands of the estate. The effect on the wood at this time was very severe, and appeared to contemporaries as catastrophic, but in the long term Rothiemurchus proved to have remarkable resilience. Since 1914, apart from episodes of felling in the two world wars, the emphasis has been on conservation.

Keywords: forests; woods; conservation; exploitation; woodland management; case study

Chapter.  13436 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Regional and Area Studies

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