Part of the Caledonian Forest near Torridon, Scotland
Scot’s Pine is the most widely distributed conifer in the world and grows throughout Europe and Asia. It can be found in the cold of the sparse Arctic forests down to dense woods of central Spain like those on the slopes of the Sierra Guadarama. The acidic nature of the needles reduce the quality of the soil and so the ground layers are never diverse in flora. Many animals live amongst these forests. Across Europe, large grayling butterflies frequent the southern forests along with giant bush crickets and reptiles. Wolves, Wild Cat, Lynx and Bear all have their chief habitat as pine forest. Fire is one of the greatest threats to conifers, especially in southern Europe. The high latitude conifer forests develop where the temperatures exceed 10°C during the warmest months of the year.
The ancient Caledonian Forest was a primeval woodland that once covered much of the northern highlands of Scotland. Today only fragments of the original forest remain. They contain descendants of the original forest and are often the only true habitat of animals like the Pine Martin and Wild Cat.Many of the Scot’s Pine, which are naturally seeded, are 350 years old. These are direct descendants of the forest that grew here 8000 years ago. The Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve at Torridon is one of the chief fragments still to be found and contains many of the species which were once abundant.
The Scot’s Pine is a true native of northern Britain. Sadly, remnants of the original forests are now rare. Once it was the climax community of Scotland called the Caledonian Forest. This is very different to the pine plantations seeded by man.
In Britain the Forestry Commission was established with the aim of growing timber for economic reasons. Speed was of the essence and Scots Pine was selected along with other conifers from northern Europe, e.g. Norway and Sitka Spruce. For the first fifteen years, the plantation is home to a range of plants and animals but as the density increases light levels reduce and few species continue. Firebreaks in the plantations form the most valuable site for fauna and flora as they are protected from strong winds, temperature fluctuation is low and warm up in the sunshine. Most of all they are well lit. Most will be of heathland or acidic grassland origin.
Disadvantages Of Plantations
Conifer plantations can be found throughout the British Isles and other areas of Europe. Most have been developed on poor and/or uplands. Many heathlands have disappeared in southern England under plantations. This monoculture is comparable to agricultural practices and species diversity is poor. Most species will be those that lived on the land prior to planting or those colonising from nearby. For example, heathers and bilberry will be the predominant field layers. The main problems are that 1. the trees are of a uniform age 2. trees develop to a uniform height 3. seedlings are placed at regular intervals, usually too close together thus restricting light so that no ground flora can develop 4. trees are usually thinned at intervals and no trees are left to rot 5. pine and spruce needles decay very slowly and gradually acidify the soil. 6. Over time the soil degrades to very poor quality.