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:

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This chapter presents some concluding thoughts. At first sight it appears that the native woods of Scotland were not managed sustainably. From covering half or more of the land surface 5,000 years ago, they were in steep retreat from the Bronze Age onwards, much of the land was open when the Romans appeared, and the next 1,500 years saw further loss. By 1750, the extent of Scotland under wood was a little less than 10 per cent. The percentage under ancient semi-natural wood then fell to about 3 per cent around 1900 and is now about 1 per cent. However, one must also realize that much of the decline was either caused by or assisted by climate change of an entirely natural kind, and that it is now recognised that biotic communities seldom tend naturally towards stability but towards alteration. It is largely fruitless to speculate upon exactly how much of the collapse of the forests in prehistory was natural and how much man-made, but the onset of marked climatic oceanicity around the start of the Bronze Age would have severely changed the forests irrespective of any human intervention.

Keywords: Scotland; native woods; forest decline; climate change; human intervention

Chapter.  6650 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Regional and Area Studies

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