The Caledonian Forest

I am proud to have supported Alan Watson Featherstone, Founder of Trees for Life.  Highland Titles have also been privileged to have the benefit of his help and advice, particularly the help he gave us in setting up our own small tree nursery.

Alan has been a personal inspiration for me and for what I have chosen to do with the rest of my life. Since first coming across a Trees for Life working party in Gerry’s Hostel at Achnashellach 20 years ago, I have known that I wanted to support their work. Alan founded Trees for Life in 1989, and was its Executive Director from then until 2016. He has sadly been made redundant after thirty years of inspirational leadership by the charity he had founded. The new Chief Executive Director is bird enthusiast Steve Micklewright.

Highland Titles were Trees for Life partners for several years during Alan’s time as Executive Director, those who attended our recent Gatherings will remember Alan well.  However we have not supported the organisation following his removal and advise our supporters that they may wish to consider distancing themselves also.

Like my daughter, Laura, the inspiration for Highland Titles, Alan was educated at Strathallan School in rural Perthshire. After some years travelling, he joined the Findhorn Foundation in 1978 and dedicated his life to nature. In 1986 he committed to create Trees for Life, with the aim of restoring the Caledonian Forest and its unique wildlife to the Scottish Highlands.

The native woodlands of Scotland are a precious part of our heritage, enormously enjoyed by the population and internationally admired for their beauty and biodiversity. But – like historic buildings or archaeological monuments – they can be easily diminished and destroyed by neglect.

Stirling Castle has been wonderfully restored and we won’t allow Skara Brae to be swallowed up by the sea. Yet, by our own inaction, are we risking the destruction of the heritage of the Caledonian pine and the Atlantic oakwood?
the island Inchcailloch, Loch Lomond, Scotland.

The message is that we are allowing our woods to decline. Our woods are cultural heritage as much as natural heritage, and their nature came about because they were treated in certain ways by people. The sheets of bluebells and wood anemone arose because there was plenty of light coming into the understory in the spring, and that depended on the woodman’s choice of tree species, his control of deer and his decision to coppice and fell the broadleaves from time to time.


The open spaces in the wood pastures, where sanicle and primrose bloom, were maintained by herded animals, their numbers determined by community regulation. Bryophytes abound where pollards were taken from the alders and the oak. The Caledonian forest was the Highlander’s wood-store – here he cut crucks for his home and here his cattle fed in the early winter. We should see these places as a living part of our history. We should love them the more for the way that our past is alive and manifest in their flowers, lichens and mosses.

Of course we cannot turn back the clock and replicate exactly the world of the charcoal burner, the tan barker and the peasant farmer, nor should we try. But we can and we must try to achieve the same result in modern ways.

We can reintroduce grazing by large herbivores, remove the rhododendron and other invasive species, bring in a legal obligation to control deer, save the Scottish wildcat from extenction and reintroduce other missing predators, plant the right tree in the right place, and reclaim the sites of ancient woods from the gloomy and arid Sitka while there is yet time. Let our priorities include the quality of care of our native woods, just as they include the quality of care of Scotland’s built heritage. Posterity deserves no less.

11 Replies to “The Caledonian Forest”

  1. No Forest No Future, absolutely right post. Man’s greed towards earning his bank balance leads him to illegally cut down trees and disturbs the ecosystem. This disaster caused by the humans rat race.

  2. Whenever I see a lone pine I feel sad. This is all that remains of what once would have been extensive woodland or at least a more diverse landscape. This is the price of over grazing and of these vast shooting estates.

  3. I approve of your vegan lifestyle choice. A worldwide plant-based diet would require less than 25% of the present agricultural land and could free up the land to support the other plants and animals that share our world. What are we waiting for?
    Meat consumption will double by 2050 meaning there has never been a more urgent time for everyone to reconsider our eating habits.

  4. ‘Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.’Herman Hesse

    I approve of the work you are helping with.. 

  5. Last week I joined a rewilding project in the Scottish Highlands run by Trees for Life. The degrading of woodland and nature is connected to the loss of imagination for what life is and could be. It was good to put something back into nature.

  6. I applaud your plan to restore the native forest of oak, hazel, ash and birch to the nature reserves you have chosen to work with. Your vision is amazing. Thanks!

  7. I am a woman who has a BSc in Sustainable Forest Management, I have worked for the Forestry Commission but had to relocate and unfortunately leave. There are very few jobs becoming available in FCS. I think it would be beneficial to stop cutting staff and instead increase staff numbers giving more people long-term employment options, instead of turning to contractors prior to considering to provide more entry level opportunities for women.

  8. The Scottish wildcat is one of Europe’s most elusive and endangered mammals.Striking, handsome and powerful, it is the very essence of a wild predator living by stealth and strength.

  9. Can I recommend Mull Eagle Watch? It is currently rated Silver by the Green Tourism Business Scheme, “Green Tourism is Sustainable Tourism” – which is defined as tourism that takes into account the needs of the environment, local residents, businesses, and visitors.

  10. I think the lynx should be fantastic in the Scottish wilderness country. As long they have a forest to hide in. As the nature and people are today, maybe it would be easier for the Lynx to be accepted more than the wolf who live in packs and need lot of space.

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