The Grand Tour: Fife and Beyond

Ramblings of an inveterate cyclist

 A fellow blogger set me thinking about woodlands, up until now I saw trees as planks of wood, and woodlands less of a living organism. I was told that there are many out there that care about our woodlands and their maintenance. I thought I would start to pay more attention as I cycled around Fife.

In the not too distant past, large estates depended on their woodlands. Go around any old estate and it is still possible to find traces of a sawmill, some of the oldest driven by a waterwheel. The forest supplied fuel for the hundreds of open fires, that would have been in every room of a castle or country home. Local wood was used in the repair and construction of new buildings. Fencing and furnisher would have been made right there in the woods, along with charcoal burning, required in the manufacture of gunpowder, keeping an army of people employed.

As the use of woodlands for food and timber declined so did the forest’s usefulness, and the forests went into decline or were cleared for farming. There was a time when a great forest of Scotland stretched all the way across the border country, from Jedburgh to near Girvan, some of it still remained as the Galloway Forest Park, but many of the native trees that would have stood there have long since gone. We knew that Bruce took one thousand men with him on a hunting trip to the Ettrick valley. By the mid-1800s, this great forest had been cleared and its hillsides used for the grazing of sheep.

Interesting that during the clearances in Scotland, crofters were forbidden to take their roof timbers with them and were forbidden to cut down trees on the new land given to them, which rendered them homeless, many did not survive the first winter’s snows. After Culloden, Scotland was under martial law in all but name. Thousands of forts were established across the land, all men were forbidden to wear any form of national dress, or carry a sword, the New Town of Edinburgh was built – which said it all – “We Won”.

So with all these thoughts burling around in my head, I set out on a wee run. First, stop the little woods alongside the cycle path out of St Andrews.

This is a well-managed piece of ground, limbs cut back and trees thinned out to stop overcrowding since many of the trees seemed to be small self-seeded trees I presume this was started in recent years, but by whom? For there are nest boxes,

Bug hotels, and the grass has been kept down and the woods are not suffering from ivy or other forms of ground cover such as brambles that can take over when left to their own devices.

Even in this small patch of land the effort that must have gone into getting it in this, good state of management, would have been extensive, and not to say, expensive.

Under threat

I turned at the end of the little woods and headed back into town and down to Ayton Wood and cycled along the path that runs through it and alongside the Kinness Burn, the contrast is stark.

The trees here are being chocked out with ivy, brambles, nettles and rhododendrons. Sad really for there are some very mature hardwood trees here like this Popular, with self-seeded sycamore sapling growing up around it and ivy all the way up to the uppermost canopy.

The whole half mile or so of wood is like this.
Out of control undergrowth

Where there is a clearing there is a little oasis of wildflowers.

What we need in Scotland is some form of Doomsday Book. All the land in Scotland recorded and assessed for taxation. If someone owns the land and that land is hitting them in their pocket, they will either – use it, to pay the cost of holding on to it, (no more land banks by big building contractors). Sell it. Or hand it back to the government, off-load it, they in turn can offer it to anyone wishing to buy it and make use of it. In this way all land in Scotland will be properly managed and accounted for rather than just owned, and since it is not eating a piece (a Scottish sandwich), who cares if it is badly maintained?

Stay safe.

One thought on “If you go down to the woods today…..

  1. Margaret Lear says:

    Interesting contrasts…..woods can be neglected, yet vibrant with life and making their own way through life cycles, managed and maintained almost to timidity, and everything in between. How good it would be to have our woods back, and listen to what they tell us!

    Like

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