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'‘The forgotten forest’
Forestry Memories
 Open Document 
No: 991   Contributor: Norman Davidson   Year: 2011
'‘The forgotten forest’

The fourth in a series of Touchwood History publications (2011) this one highlighting the story of Whitelee Forest in the 20th century written by Ruth Tittensor and published by the Forestry Commission.

The PDF which can be accessed above shows the inside front page and lists the topics covered.

Booklets can be purchased from Forestry Commission Publications www.forestry.gov.uk/publications under their miscellaneous category and stock code FCMS118 (ISBN 978-0 -85538-798-3) £5.

The foreword in the booklet is written by James Hunter (University of the Highlands and Islands Centre for History, Dornoch) and is copied below:

‘Of all the many changes that took place in the Scottish countryside during the 20th century, none was more transformational than the spread of plantation forestry. Hillside after hillside, moor after moor, went under trees - most of them conifers. Any significant alteration in how the countryside looks - as is apparent from the furore surrounding the recent proliferation of wind farms - is controversial. Much afforestation, it follows, was deplored. And in the later part of the 20th century, as the often negative impact of conifer plantations on fragile but important moorland and peatland ecologies became better understood, it started to be apparent that forestry’s wider costs could indeed outweigh its financial and other benefits.

The practice of forestry changed as a result. But forestry changed in other ways as well. The Forestry Commission, which had presided over the expansion of forestry in Scotland since its formation in 1919, had not exactly locked the Scottish public out of what were ostensibly their forests. But neither had the Commission - prior to the 1970s and 1980s - done a great deal, other than in one or two particular locations, to encourage people to explore its woodlands.

Today’s Forestry Commission, in contrast, sets a great deal of store by encouraging public access to its forests - which, in consequence, have become highly valued by very many people. Greater public access has been accompanied by huge effort on the part of the Forestry Commission to explain and interpret what is to be seen by visitors to Commission forests. But in understandable reaction to environmentalist critiques of plantation forestry and its impacts, this interpretative effort tends to concentrate on a forest’s natural history - on the birds, the animals, the plants to be seen there. More and more often, admittedly, you will also find some guidance to what a forest might contain in the way of archaeology - whether a neolithic cairn from thousands of years ago or the remnants of a crofting township cleared in the course of 19th-century evictions. What you will not find is any very substantial account of how the forest you are visiting was brought into existence.

Perhaps because I grew up in a mid-20th-century community which was heavily dependent on employment in forestry, and one where both my grandfather and my father were Forestry Commission trappers (what would today be called rangers), I find this a little bit sad. Putting in place the forests we now take for granted was, after all, a major endeavour. It involved much labour and much effort over many years by many thousands of men and women. Lots of those people are still with us. They have stories to tell, stories that deserve to be heard, stories that are of interest and importance. The Touchwood series of publications, of which this is the latest, was initiated with a view to making some at least of those stories as accessible as the forests the stories deal with. In the pages that follow, then, you will find some account of how one Scottish forest, Whitelee, came to be the way it is. Much of this account is in the words of Whitelee people. That is how it should be. And that is why everyone involved in this invaluable exercise deserves both thanks and congratulations.’

James Hunter

Other Touchwood History booklets available at the time of writing are:

‘The smell of the rosin, noise of the saw’ - the story of forestry in Mid Argyll in the 20th Century (See Forestry Memories picture No 988)

‘The forest is a beautiful place to be’ - the story of forestry in The Great Glen in the 20th Century (See Forestry Memories picture No 989)

‘No rivalry but different’ – the story of forestry in and around Glenmore and Rothiemurchus in the 20th Century (See Forestry Memories picture No 990)

Picture added on 04 September 2011
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