Monday 1 June 2015

Norway - the return (in brief!)

For those of you who follow us on Facebook, you'll already know that 2 of our staff members were part of a 15 strong contingent who travelled to Norway to spend 7 days looking at mountain woodlands. Site Officer Lynn and Site Manager Tim were joined by colleagues from Trees for Life (who organised the trip), Scottish Natural Heritage, Forest Enterprise, National Trust for Scotland, Cairngorms National Park Authority and the Montane Scrub Action Group. Our leader for the week was Duncan Halley from the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research.
The aim of the visit was to look at mountain woodland regeneration in SW Norway and targeting our questions around the historical situation, current management and ecology. Most of the sites we visited had comparable geological and climate data to our own areas in Scotland which made for a good starting point.
Duncan arranged a full timetable for us which involved looking at areas of different habitat type, elevation and conditions, both inland and coastal and we met with a number of representatives from the local community and local government environmental department.
It was a thoroughly inspiring trip in  many different ways and initial thoughts can probably be summarised in the following way;
1. Norway has a lot more trees than Scotland
This may sound like an obvious statement but it's true. Since the large scale reduction of grazing and farming around 100-150 years ago, the trees have shot up. And they grow everywhere.... flat ground, on rock, on ledges, in crevices, in bogs. Across some of our sites we plant in some pretty rocky, exposed and unforgiving ground and it was brilliant to see trees growing in similar situations that were actually trees!

Lifted root plate of a large windblown birch showing exposed rock beneath

Birch regeneration growing on rock - just enough soil!

What came first - the rock or the tree? Did the rock fall into the tree or did the tree grow up and bring the rock with it?
2. Don't forget the......
We've been planting a whole mix of different species across our sites but if we are to take our cue from Norway, there are a few trees/shrubs we could do with planting more of. One tree we haven't put in as much of is Aspen. In Norway this is one of the main woodland trees (growing alongside Scots Pine and Downy Birch). Higher up we are really lacking in our scrub species, in particular Dwarf Birch and Downy Willow, as well as other willow species.

Scrub mix of willow species, dwarf birch and juniper

Dwarf birch everywhere at higher altitudes

Lots of juniper both higher up but also as woodland understorey
All the grey patches are large clumps of Aspen
3. We need to plant
In Norway, woodland regeneration has come from natural regeneration. That is there was enough of an existing seed source in terms of viable trees to get things going again. That along with suitable growing conditions has resulted in some lovely new early successional woodland. However the situation in Scotland is different. It is questionable whether we have enough trees left to kick start things off and the overall conditions for growth aren't as good as Norway. Our soil has really suffered from more intense, prolonged grazing leading to a serious lack of important mycorrhizal fungi and nutrient leaching. Therefore we agreed that in many places we do need to intervene to get things going.
4. No deer?
One of our biggest battles in tree establishment is dealing with the threat from deer. In Norway this doesn't seem to be the case. At present there is little concern around deer management and culling. It does appear that the population is on the rise and it was something that the group universally stressed to our Norwegian counterparts as being something to tackle in the near rather than distant future. 

This browsing damage was mostly likely done by local goats but it's clear the damage that can be done by larger mammals
5. The hills are alive with the sound of birdsong
As we strolled through many upland woodlands we were constantly distracted by the variety of bird life. From Bluethroats and Redstarts singing to nearly tripping over 2 capercaillie, it was always a race to see who could identify the song or identify the bird by sight first. When walking through similar elevations in the Scottish hills, we are really missing that. Birds are a key part in the food chain and in this situation indicated a healthy or at least recovering ecosystem.

Capercaillie droppings with a moose footprint in the middle
6. We need time
Nowadays we don't have time to take time. But in what we are trying to achieve with woodland regeneration we need time. Thinking in terms of 100s of years and outside of our own lifespan for the bigger picture is essential.  Trees at lower elevations will shoot up, higher up they will stay low, but both are key parts of our future woodland ecosystem.

The first valley we visited. Picture take in 1927 of a largely treeless, farmed landscape compared to......
the view today. Trees are everywhere
More Norway stories to follow
Site Officer


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks View from the Woods. (Great name)

  2. Lynn - this is great stuff and the parallels with Carrifran, Corehead and T&G are obvious. This part of the Southern Uplands will be stunning in 50 years (Carrifran already getting there after 15...

    1. Thanks Reuben. It certainly made what we are doing a lot more real in our minds

  3. There is a mixture of excitement and sadness in reading this after promulgating the Norwegian example for more than 3 decades. Excitement that more people are catching on to the analogue of Vestlandet and sadness in a deja vu sense that we have been talking about this for so long, showing slides of Norway from as long ago as the mid 1970s and organising study trips since 1984, without the full drop of the penny. Sadness too at the way some of the conservation establishment resented the Norwegian analogue and the way some of it was put into action at Loch Garry in direct planting with more than the birch-willow minimalism in mind. Still the more the merrier and it's time to tack the intellectual shackles off and get out of the birch-bunker and Granny pine mentality.

    1. Hi Ron. Thanks for you comment. I think we all came back from Norway with a feeling of hope. We do have a long way to go but I think positive steps forward are being made and it's a matter now where we have to keep pushing on as much as we can on both local and national scales.