Lecture: Too much woodland? Is the push for more tree cover reducing the naturalness of the Highlands?


Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh


Dr James Fenton, NTS


Thursday, 21 September, 2017 - 18:00

Amongst most nature conservationists in Scotland there is an implicit belief in the Clementsian concept of plant succession to a stable climax vegetation and that such a climax in Scotland is woodland. Hence the absence of woodland across most of the Highlands is ascribed to human action, and anything which prevents return to woodland such as grazing must be unnatural.
This presentation suggests that, although there has been postglacial succession to woodland in many areas, the resulting woodland is not stable in the long term: there is further succession to open communities – the ‘telocratic phase of forest regression’ which has been a characteristic of previous interglacial cycles.
The open landscapes of upland Scotland, rather than being anthropogenically damaged, in fact represent one of the most natural vegetation patterns remaining in Europe.

Speaker biography
After graduating with a degree in botany from Durham University, Dr James Fenton worked for the British Antarctic Survey carrying out research on Antarctic peat growth, gaining a PhD in the process. Thereafter he taught ecology in a field centre in the Lake District for five years before returning to Scotland to set up as one of the first ecological consultants in Scotland. In 1991 he became the National Trust for Scotland’s first Ecologist, carrying out ecological surveys, providing ecological advice across the whole NTS landholding, and contributing to NTS policies on woodland and grazing. During this period he coordinated a 2-year EU-LIFE project on upland grazing, which was a partnership of NTS, Scottish Natural Heritage, Scottish Wildlife Trust, the then Institute of Terrestrial Ecology and the then Macaulay Land Use Institute. In 2005 he left NTS and joined SNH to work on landscape policy; here he coordinated SNH’s work in identifying the special qualities of all of Scotland’s 40 National Scenic Areas and both National Parks. From 2011-2013 he moved to the Falkland Islands to become CEO of the NGO Falklands Conservation. He is now an independent Ecological Consultant. He has written extensively on ecological issues in upland Scotland, including a review paper in the first issue of Plant Ecology and Diversity titled ‘A postulated natural origin for the open landscapes of upland Scotland’.

Come and join us for this lecture, which is held jointly with the RBGE in their main lecture theatre. Tea available from 5.30 pm. All lectures are free.


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