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James HC Fenton

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Management of
our uplands should be based on a full under-standing of the area’s ecology


OCTOBER 2014    Download here .pdf 2mb

The Upland Ecology of Scotland: a Review of the Favourable Condition Approach in Relation to Grazing and Carbon Storage.

In recent years there has been much talk in conservation circles about overgrazing in the uplands, about there being too many deer. The underlying reason for this appears to be that deer eat trees, resulting in many sites being declared in ‘unfavourable condition’ owing to the browsing-induced tree mortality. Woodlands are seen as a key habitat so that any lack of regeneration must be rectified by reducing the herbivore population. Additionally trees are seen as important carbon stores so that their spread should be encouraged to help mitigate global warming.

This document is a critique of the above topics and of the whole ‘favourable condition’ approach to the management of upland sites. At the same time it attempts to clarify many of the relevant ecological terms which are often loosely defined in common parlance. There cannot be full communication unless we agree with the meaning of words and of the underlying concepts.

New digital version June 2015:

The State of Highland Birchwoods

The report of the 1984 survey of birchwoods in Highland Region. By James Fenton for the Scottish Wildlife Trust.
A4 36 pages. 5mb download

The History of Woodland in The Highlands:
An Ecological Perspective

Part 1: What does the evidence suggest?
 Part 2: Too Much Woodland?

Lecture to the Botanical Society of Scotland
(Edinburgh September 2017, Inverness December 2017)

The eminent geologist James Geikie concluded in 1866 that ”It can be shown that the destruction of our ancient forests has not been primarily due to man…”.

Later in 1955 Frank Fraser Darling called the Highlands a “devastated countryside” owing to human-caused deforestation.

So who is right? The answer to the question is of fundamental importance to those concerned with the conservation of the Highland landscape.

This presentation takes a strategic overview and concludes that it is more likely that James Geikie is correct: evidence seems to suggest that woodland is unlikely to be the climax vegetation at this stage of the postglacial period, and that the current vogue for woodland ‘restoration’ risks damaging the remaining naturalness of the Highlands.

Download here 7.08 mb .pdf

Deciding on the balance between moorland and woodland in the Scottish uplands: an overview at the landscape scale

In La Cañada, No.7 Spring 2003

Protected Areas for Nature – Review: Report to Scottish Natural Heritage. Thoughts and Comments from Dr James Fenton. February 2015.

See also:

A Postulated Natural Origin for the Open Landscape of Upland Scotland

See James Fenton’s 2008 paper on Scotland’s upland ecology in Plant Ecology & Diversity