Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Great Wood of Caledon

The Northern Corries from Glenmore
Watercolour
25 x 36 cm


I've talked before about the ancient pinewoods of Scotland: At one time the Great Wood of Caledon covered most of the Highlands with a more-or-less continuous area of forest and mountains.

Caledonian pine forest is a mixed woodland of Scots Pines and other native trees. It forms a unique habitat and home to some of Britain's rarest species, including the Capercaillie and the Scottish Crossbill.

Over the centuries much of the forest has been cleared for grazing land and for shooting grouse and deer. A few areas survive and some of the largest are in the Cairngorms National Park, where efforts are being made to allow them to regenerate naturally.

The main threat to these forest now is overgrazing by deer. There are no large predators in Scotland and the size of the deer population has become a problem, especially for the regeneration of forests. Any young trees that become established are browsed by the deer, resulting in a dying habitat that has only old trees. Where deer are fenced out or controlled the young trees can grow undisturbed and regeneration can take place. There has been some discussion of the possibility of re-introducing wolves to control the deer, but it seems unlikely that there could ever be agreement on that.

It's remarkable how quickly empty areas of heather moorland can be colonised by trees. The bare mountain slopes we see today are a man-made landscape, which could eventually return to a new Great Wood of Caledon with a bit of help from us to undo the damage we have done.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Moorland Fires Again

Sunset Fire
Watercolour
18 x 26 cm



We've just had a couple of serious moorland fires again in Caithness. They've been put out now with the help of the rain, but I expect they will smoulder for a while yet. Once the fire gets into the peat it can burn underground for a long time. I don't know how these started. It's too late to be moorland management so I expect it was accidental: just throwing a cigarette out of a car window can be enough. It's strange that we had no fires when the weather was warm and dry recently, but we've had them now that it's cloudy and cold.

I didn't get out to see the recent fires: I don't like "ambulance-chasing" in any case, but this painting was from another one that I sketched a few years ago. From a painter's point of view the smoke and the setting sun combined to make a wonderful subject.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Brochs

Dun Telve Broch, Glenelg
Watercolour
25 x 36 cm



Throughout the Highlands and Islands of Scotland there are the remains of ancient round towers, called brochs. The best-preserved ones are in the Orkney Isles, but there are some impressive examples on the mainland in Glenelg, in Wester Ross.

These mysterious towers were built during the Iron Age and experts disagree over what they were used for. They seem to be defensive structures, but they may been intended to show off the wealth or power of their owners.

The most complete of the surviving brochs are around 25 metres tall, but they may originally have been higher than that. The walls were hollow with staircases ingeniously built into them to give access to upper levels. There were no windows and just a small, low doorway. They were built of stone and amazingly no mortar was used to hold them together. The fact that they have survived at all, after two thousand years, is a testament to the skills of their builders.