Silviculture, the practice of establishing and managing stands of trees, is a topic that, like tree species selection, is a product of policy, industrial demands and owners choice. It is not unfair to say that silviculture in Scotland is dominated by one model or paradigm, even aged forestry with clear felling, or Kahlschlag as those masters of silvicultural systems, the Germans, call it. This system has developed to a point where it may not merit the term silviculture – it is planting trees, walking away for a while (which is getting shorter) and returning to clearfell all the trees and start again – it may be more accurate to describe it as tree farming.
This is not to say that in Scotland we do not have a diversity of silvicultural systems; we have Scots pine shelterwood systems on Deeside, continuous cover forestry on private estates and State land such as Glentress near Peebles and the Duke of Buccleuch’s, Bowhill Estate next to Selkirk. We have a fair number of even aged forests comprising species mixes of Sitka spruce, larch, Norway spruce and firs that have received thinning treatments through their lifetime and may be viewed as representing silviculture from a different era.
Tree breeding and enhanced atmospheric nitrogen and CO2 levels mean that we can grow high forest containing increased volumes of biomass in shorter time scales and the forest management and investment companies that drive much of Scotland’s forestry, with assistance and encouragement from our politicians, do not really see the point in practicing anything other than tree farming – plant, close the gate, fell, replant, close the gate…
FPG believes that increasing the diversity of forest management types in Scotland by practicing a greater variety of silviculture such as by increasing the frequency of thinning and converting more forests to continuous cover forestry, would provide more local economic and environmental benefits and bestow greater ecological and climate change resilience on our forests.