Beauty spot beeches saved from blasting

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A GOVERNMENT heritage watchdog has blocked plans to blow up mature beech trees at a world-renowned ornamental landscape.

Experts wanted to emulate the effect of the hurricane which devastated parts of England in 1987 but led to the regeneration of woodland in many areas.

The Scottish Wildlife Trust planned to take the crowns off 12 mature beech trees, including four with explosive charges, at the magnificent Falls of Clyde Wildlife Reserve, where Wordsworth, Walter Scott and the Tsars of Russia often visited.

Several major artists, including Turner, painted all four waterfalls, particularly the biggest, Corra Lin. Forty tons of water cascade over the 80ft drop every second.

The woodlands are of special scientific interest, with more than 40,000 visitors each year.

While some parts are natural oak woodland, landowners also planted beech and Scots pine to create the ornamental landscape at the edge of the southern uplands, which lie between Edinburgh and Glasgow.

The idea to blow off the crowns and major boughs of the beeches came after experts found that the loss of millions of trees in the Great Storm - which cut a swathe across southern England 11 years ago - had led to huge natural regeneration on woodland floors. The trust manages 120 sites, but this is the first time in Britain that explosives were considered as a way of promoting biodiversity.

Removal of beech trees would allow ground flora, such as bluebells, wood-rushes and brambles, to recolonise. This creates food for moths, butterflies and caterpillars, as well as birds such as redstarts and pied flycatchers.

Support for the work came from government nature advisers, Scottish Natural Heritage, the Forestry Authority and the Clyde reserve.

But the Government's Historic Scotland body, part of the Scottish Office, has now called a halt to the operation, believing it would have a deeply damaging effect on the landscape.

A spokesman said: "We were unhappy about using explosives on some of the trees in such a historic landscape dating back centuries."

The Garden History Society was also alarmed that the prospect of beech stumps could have a detrimental impact on walks and viewpoints.

Christopher Dingwall, the society's Scottish conservation officer, adds: "We're concerned that reducing beeches to 20ft stumps would reduce the visual quality of the woodland.

"The Falls of Clyde have an iconic status, and exploding beeches could have a damaging effect on the character of the woodland."

John Derbyshire, the Wildlife Trust's ranger, disagrees with the historians: "These are healthy beeches, but they're making the woodland unhealthy. Some may see it as vandalism, but we're trying to fit in as much biodiversity as possible.

"All the oaks will be gone from this woodland within a hundred years if it's left to itself ... We wanted to do our best for our small piece of woodland. Using explosives was a good option."