Trees return to barren slopes left by the Ice Age

The Queen's representative on Shetland, the Lord Lieutenant, has offered his land as a planting site for the IoS forest, writes Mark Rowe. John Scott said he would be more than happy to offer up his farming land on the island of Bressay.

Trees were once an integral part of the landscape until a combination of climate change and agricultural practices did for them some 4,500 years ago. Today many islanders would like to have some of their trees back and that is one of the strongest reasons why Shetland was declared a winner.

Alastair Coutts, a consultant general surgeon on the island who instigated Shetland's campaign, said the woodland would make a tremendous difference. "It will really improve the amenity for people who live on Shetland," he said. "Those of us who moved here from the mainland really miss trees and the simple pleasure of kicking autumn leaves on an afternoon's walk."

It is thought that the end of the Ice Age and the move to our present inter-glacial period some 11,000 years ago contributed to the decline in tree numbers by bringing milder winters and cooler summers. All this meant there was far too much rain and sea salt for the trees to cope with, turning much of the island into a peat bog.

But excavators keep uncovering remnants of trees from another age, often birch and other species thought to be indigenous such as rowan, willow and hazel. These are the sort of trees that we expect to be planted in our forests. They are hardy trees that can withstand the harsh climate and may be supported by Alaskan poplars and alders. The weather conditions mean that plantings will not take place until next March.

The exact location of our woodland will be decided after a feasibility study has been carried out. Other possible sites include the wild and bleak Scord of Tresta or the Hill of Togdale. The Shetland Amenity Trust will be careful not to ruin the landscape. "We won't be looking to perch them on the top of a hillside," said the trust's James Mackenzie. "They will be best in a secluded valley. It is all about planting in appropriate locations that will give benefit to the islands."

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