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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

‘Too Much Woodland’?

Are nature conservationists reducing the remaining naturalness of the Highlands through promoting increased woodland cover?

Lecture to the Botanical Society of Scotland 21 September 2017

Amongst most nature conservationists in Scotland there is an implicit belief in the Clementsian concept of plant succession to a stable climax vegetation and that such a climax in Scotland is woodland. Hence the absence of woodland across most of the Highlands is ascribed to human action, and anything which prevents return to woodland such as grazing must be unnatural.

    This presentation suggests that, although there has been postglacial succession to woodland in many areas, the resulting woodland is not stable in the long term: there is further succession to open communities – the ‘telocratic phase of forest regression’ which has been a characteristic of previous interglacial cycles.

    The open landscapes of upland Scotland, rather than being anthropogenically damaged, in fact represent one of the most natural vegetation patterns remaining in Europe.

Download here 5.4mb .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